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We are about to contemplate the diversities, or, as they have been called, the variations of the Reformation. These diversities are one of its most essential characteristics.
Truth is like the light of the sun: it descends from heaven one and ever the same; and yet it assumes different colors upon earth, according to the objects on which it falls. In like manner, formularies somewhat different may sometimes express the same christian idea considered under different aspects.
How dull would creation be if this boundless variety of forms and colors, which gives it beauty, were replaced by an absolute uniformity! But how melancholy also would be its appearance, if all created beings did not form a magnificent unity!
Divine unity has its rights, so also has human diversity. In religion we must suppress neither God nor man. If you have not unity, your religion is not of God; if you have not diversity, the religion is not of man; but it ought to be of both. Would you erase from creation one of the laws that God himself has imposed on it, — that of infinite diversity? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? But if there is a diversity in religion arising from the difference of individuality, and which consequently must subsist even in heaven, there is one that proceeds from man’s rebellion, and this is indeed a great calamity.
There are two tendencies which equally lead us into error. The one exaggerates diversity, the other exaggerates unity. The essential doctrines of salvation are the limit between these two courses. To require more than these doctrines, is to infringe this diversity; to require less, is to infringe unity.
The former exists in various exclusive sects, and particularly in that of Rome.
The Church should reject error, and unless this be done, Christianity cannot be maintained. But if this idea were carried to extremes, it would follow that the Church should take arms against the least deviation, and put herself in motion for mere verbal disputes. Faith would thus be fettered, and the feelings of Christians reduced to bondage. Such was not the condition of the Church in the times of real catholicity, — the catholicity of the primitive ages. She rejected the sects that attacked the fundamental truths of the Gospel; but these truths once received, it left full liberty to faith. Rome soon departed from this wise course; and in proportion as the dominion and teaching of men arose in the Church, there sprung up by their side a unity of man.
When a merely human system had been once invented, coercion increased from age to age. The christian liberty, respected by the catholicism of the earlier ages, was at first limited, then enslaved, and finally stifled.
Conviction, which according to the laws of human nature and of the Word of God should be freely formed in the heart and understanding of man, was imposed from without, completely formed and symmetrically arranged by the masters of mankind. Reflection, will, feeling, all the faculties of the human being which, subjected to the Word and Spirit of God, should work and bear fruit freely, were deprived of their liberty, and constrained to expand in shapes that had been determined upon beforehand. The mind of man became as a mirror on which extraneous objects are reflected, but which possesses nothing by itself. Doubtless there still existed many souls that had been taught direct of God. But the great majority of Christians from that time received the convictions of others only; a faith peculiar to the individual was rare; it was the Reformation alone that restored this treasure to the Church.
And yet for some time there was a space within which the human mind was permitted to move; there were certain opinions that might be received or rejected at will. But as a hostile army day by day presses closer to a besieged city, compels the garrison to move only within the narrow boundary of its ramparts, and at last forces it to surrender; so the hierarchy, from age to age, and almost from year to year, contracted the space that it had temporarily granted to the human mind, until at last this space, from continual encroachments, had ceased to exist. All that man ought to love, believe, or do, was regulated and decreed in the offices of the Roman chancery. The faithful were relieved of the fatigue of examining, of reflecting, of contending; all that they had to do was to repeat the formularies they had been taught.
From that time, if there appeared in the bosom of Roman-catholicism any one who had inherited the catholicism of the apostolic ages, such a man feeling his inability to expand in the bonds in which he was confined, was compelled to snap them asunder, and display again to the astonished world the unfettered bearing of a Christian, who acknowledges no law save that of God.
The Reformation, by restoring liberty to the Church, was destined also to restore its original diversity, and to people it with families united by the great features of resemblance they derive from their common parent; but different in their secondary features, and reminding us of the varieties inherent in human nature. Perhaps it would have been desirable for this diversity to exist in the universal Church without leading to sectarian divisions. Nevertheless, we must not forget that these sects are but the expression of this diversity.
Switzerland and Germany, which had till this time developed themselves independently of each other, began to come in contact in the years whose history we are about to retrace, and realized the diversity of which we have been speaking, and which was to be one of the characteristics of Protestantism. We shall there behold men perfectly agreed on all the great doctrines of faith, and yet differing on certain secondary points. Passion, indeed, entered into these discussions; but while deploring such a melancholy intermixture, Protestantism, far from seeking to conceal her diversity, publishes and proclaims it. Its path to unity is long and difficult, but this unity is the real unity.
Zwingle was advancing in the christian life. While the Gospel had freed Luther from that profound melancholy to which he had formerly given way in the convent of Erfurth, and had developed in him a serenity which often amounted to gaiety, and of which the reformer afterwards gave so many proofs, even in the face of great dangers, Christianity had produced the very opposite effect on the joyous child of the Tockenburg mountains.
Tearing Zwingle from his thoughtless and worldly life, it had imprinted a seriousness on his character that was not natural to him. This seriousness was very necessary to him. We have seen how towards the close of the year 1522 numerous enemies appeared rising up against the Reformation. Zwingle was overwhelmed with reproaches from every quarter, and disputes would often take place even in the churches.
Leo Juda, who (says an historian) was a man of small stature, but full of love for the poor, and zeal against false teachers, had arrived at Zurich about the end of the year 1522 to occupy the station of pastor of St.
Peter’s church. He had been replaced at Einsidlen by Oswald Myconius. This was a valuable acquisition for Zwingle and for the Reformation.
One day, not long after his arrival, as he was in the church of which he had been appointed pastor, he heard an Augustine monk asserting forcibly that man is able of himself to satisfy the righteousness of God. “Reverend father prior,” said Leo, “listen to me for an instant; and you, my dear citizens, keep still; I will speak as becomes a Christian.” He then proved to the people the falseness of the doctrine to which he had been listening. f2062 Upon this a great disturbance arose in the church; and immediately several persons angrily fell upon “the little priest” from Einsidlen. Zwingle appeared before the great council, requiring permission to give an account of his doctrine in the presence of the deputies of the bishop; and the council, desirous of putting an end to these disturbances, convened a conference for the 29th of January 1523. The news spread rapidly through the whole of Switzerland. His adversaries exclaimed in their vexation: “A diet of vagabonds is to be held at Zurich; all the beggars from the highways will be there.”
Zwingle, desiring to prepare for the struggle, published sixty-seven theses.
The mountaineer of the Tockenburg boldly assailed the pope in the eyes of all Switzerland. “All those (said he) who maintain that the Gospel is nothing without the confirmation of the Church, blaspheme God. “Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for all those who have been, who are, or who shall be. “All Christians are Christ’s brethren, and brethren of one another, and they have no father upon earth: thus orders, sects, and parties fall to the ground. “We should not constrain those who will not acknowledge their error, unless they disturb the public peace by their seditious behavior.”
Such were some of Zwingle’s propositions.
Early in the morning of Thursday the 29th of January, more than six hundred persons had collected in the hall of the Great Council at Zurich.
Citizens and strangers, scholars, men of rank and the clergy, had responded to the call of the council. “What will be the end of all this?” asked they of one another. No one ventured to reply; but the attention, emotion, and agitation prevailing in this assembly, clearly manifested that they were expecting some extraordinary result.
The burgomaster Roust, who had fought at Marignan, presided at the conference. The chevalier James d’Anwyl, grand-master of the episcopal court at Constance, the vicar-general Faber, and many other doctors, were present as the bishop’s representatives. Sebastian Hofmeister had been sent by Schaffhausen, and he was the only deputy from the cantons: such was still the weakness of the Reformation in Switzerland. On a table in the middle of the hall lay a Bible; in front of it sat Zwingle: “I am agitated and tormented on every side,” he had said, “and yet I stand firm, relying not on my own strength, but on Christ the rock, with whose help I can do all things.” f2064 Zwingle stood up and said: “I have preached that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone, and for this reason I am stigmatized throughout Switzerland as a heretic, a seducer of the people, a rebel......Now, then, in the name of God, here I stand!” f2065 Upon this all eyes were turned towards Faber, who rose and made answer: “I was not sent here to dispute, but merely to listen!” The assembly in surprise began to laugh. “The Diet of Nuremberg,” continued Faber, “has promised a council with a year; we must wait until it meets.” “What!” said Zwingle, “is not this vast and learned meeting as good as any council?” Then turning to the presidents, he added: “Gracious lords, defend the Word of God.”
A deep silence followed this appeal; it was interrupted by the burgomaster, who said: “If there is any one here who has anything to say, let him do so.” There was another pause. “I call upon all those who have accused me, and I know that there are several here,” said Zwingle, “to come forward and reprove me for the love of truth.” No one said a word.
Faber, thus closely pressed, dropped for an instant the reserve he had imposed on himself, to declare that he had convicted the pastor of Filispach of his error, and who was not confined in prison; but immediately after resumed his character as a spectator. It was in vain that he was urged to set forth the reasons by which he had convinced this pastor: he obstinately refused. This silence on the part of the Romish doctors tired the patience of the meeting. A voice was heard exclaiming from the farther part of the hall: “Where are now these valiant fellows, f2066 who talk so loudly in the streets? Come along, step forward, there’s your man!” No one moved. Upon this the burgomaster said with a smile: “It would appear that this famous sword with which you smote the pastor of Filispach will not come out of its sheath today;” and he then broke up the meeting.
When the assembly met again in the afternoon, the council declared that Master Ulrich Zwingle, not being reproved by any one, might continue to preach the holy Gospel, and that the rest of the clergy in the canton should teach nothing that they could not substantiate by Scripture. “Praised be God, who will cause his holy Word to prevail in heaven and earth!” exclaimed Zwingle. Upon this Faber could not restrain his indignation. “The theses of Master Ulrich,” said he, “are contrary to the honor of the Church and the doctrine of Christ; and I will prove it.” “Do so,” replied Zwingle. But Faber declined his challenge, except it should be at Paris, Cologne, or Friburg. “I will have no other judge than the Gospel,” said Zwingle. “Sooner than you can shake one of its words, the earth will open before you.” “The Gospel!” sneered Faber, “always the Gospel!......Men might live in holiness, peace, and charity, even if there were no Gospel.” f2068 At these words the spectators rose indignantly from their seats. Thus terminated the disputation.
CHAPTER -Papal Temptation — Progress of the Reformation — The Idol at Staderhofen — Sacrilege — The Ornaments of the Saints.
The Reformation had gained the day; it was now to accelerate its conquests. After his battle of Zurich, in which the most skillful champions of the papacy were dumb, who would bold enough to oppose the new doctrine? But weapons of a different kind were tried. Zwingle’s firmness and republican bearing overawed his adversaries; accordingly they had recourse to peculiar measures to subdue him. While Rome was pursuing Luther with her anathemas, she endeavored to win over the reformer of Zurich by gentleness. The dispute was scarcely ended when Zwingle received a visit from the captain of the pope’s guard — the son of the burgomaster Roust. He was accompanied by the legate Einsius, the bearer of a papal brief, in which Adrian VI called Zwingle his beloved son, and assured him of “his special favor.” At the same time the pope urged Zink to gain over Zwingle. “And what has the pope commissioned you to offer him?” asked Oswald Myconius. “Everything,” replied Zink, “except the papal chair.” f2070 There was no mitre, or crozier, or cardinal’s hat, that the pope would not have given to bribe the reformer of Zurich. But Rome was strangely mistaken in this respect; all her proposals were unavailing. In Zwingle, the Romish Church had a still more pitiless enemy than Luther. He cared far less than the Saxon reformer for the ideas and ceremonies of former ages; it was enough for him that any custom, however innocent in itself, was connected with some abuse, he fell violently upon it. The Word of God (thought he) should stand alone.
But if Rome understand so imperfectly what was then taking place in Christendom, she found councillors who endeavored to put her in the way.
Faber, exasperated at seeing the pope thus humble himself before his adversary, hastened to enlighten him. He was a courtier with a constant smile upon his lips and honied words in his mouth; to judge from his own language, he was everybody’s friend, even of those whom he accused of heresy. But his hatred was mortal. Accordingly, the reformer, playing on his name (Faber), used to say, “the Vicar of Constance is a lie-smith. Let him openly take up arms, and see how Christ defends us.” f2071 These words were no mere idle boasting; for while the pope was complimenting Zwingle on his eminent virtues, and the special confidence he placed in him, the enemies of the reformer were increasing in number throughout Switzerland. The veteran soldiers, the great families, the herdsmen of the mountains, combined their hatred against this doctrine which thwarted their tastes. At Lucerne, the magnificent representation of Zwingle’s passion was announced; in effect, the people dragged the reformer’s effigy to the scaffold, shouting out that they were going to put the heretic to death; and laying hands on some Zurichers who happened to be at Lucerne, compelled them to be spectators of this mock execution. “They shall not trouble my repose,” said Zwingle; “Christ will never be wanting to his followers.” Even the diet re-echoed with threats against him. “My dear confederates,” said the councillor of Mullinen to the cantons, “make a timely resistance to the Lutheran cause......At Zurich a man is no longer master in his own house!”
This agitation among the enemy announced what was passing in Zurich more loudly than any proclamations could have done. The victory was indeed bearing fruit; the conquerors were gradually taking possession of the country, and every day the Gospel made fresh progress. Twenty-four canons and a great number of chaplains voluntarily petitioned the council to reform their statutes. It was decided to replace these sluggish priest by pious and learned men, with commission to give the Zurich youth a christian and liberal education, and to establish in the place of their vespers and Latin masses, a daily explanation of a chapter in the Bible, according to the Hebrew and Greek texts, first for the learned, and afterwards for the people.
There are unfortunately in every army a number of those desperate heroes who leave their ranks and make unseasonable attacks on points that ought still to be respected. A young priest, Louis Hetzer, had published a treatise in German entitled, The judgment of God against Images, which produced a great sensation, and the images wholly engrossed the thoughts of a part of the people. It is only to the detriment of those essentials that ought to occupy his mind, that man can fix his attention on secondary matters. At a place called Stadelhofen, outside the city gates, stood a crucifix elaborately carved and richly ornamented. The most zealous partisans of the Reformation, shocked at the superstitions to which this image gave rise, could not pass by without giving vent to their indignation.
A citizen named Claude Hottinger, “a worthy man,” says Bullinger, “and well read in the Holy Scriptures,” having fallen in with the miller of Stadelhofen, to whom the crucifix belonged, asked him when he intended to throw down his idols. “No one compels you to worship them,” replied the miller. — “But do you not know,” retorted Hottinger, “that the Word of God forbids us to have any graven images?” — “Well then,” said the miller, “if you are authorized to remove them, I abandon them to you.”
Hottinger thought himself empowered to act, and shortly after, about the end of September, he was seen to pass the gates with a body of citizens.
On arriving at the crucifix, they deliberately dug round it, until the image, yielding to their efforts, fell to the earth with a loud crash.
This daring action spread dismay on every side: one might have thought that religion itself had fallen with the crucifix of Stadelhofen. “They are guilty of sacrilege! They deserve to be put to death!” exclaimed the friends of Rome. The council caused the image-breakers to be apprehended. “No!” cried Zwingle and his colleagues from their pulpits: “Hottinger and his friends are not guilty in the sight of God and worthy of death. But they may be punished for having acted with violence and without the sanction of the magistrates.” f2074 Meantime acts of a similar nature were continually taking place. A curate of Saint Peter’s, one day remarking in front of the church a number of poor people ill fed and with tattered garments, said to one of his colleagues, as he turned his eyes on the costly ornaments of the saints: “I should like to strip these idols of wood to procure clothing for these poor members of Jesus Christ.” A few days later, at three o’clock in the morning, the saints and all their ornaments disappeared. The council flung the curate into prison, notwithstanding he protested his innocence of this proceeding. “What!” exclaimed the people, “is it these logs of wood that Jesus ordered us to clothe? Is it on account of these images that he will say to the righteous: I was naked, and ye clothed me?”
CHAPTER -The Disputation of October — Zwingle on the Church — The Church — Commencement of Presbyterianism — Discussion on the Mass — Enthusiasts — The Language of Discretion — Victory — A Characteristic of the Swiss Reformation — Moderation — Oswald Myconius at Zurich — Revival of Literature — Thomas Plater of the Valais.
Even these excesses were destined to be salutary; a new combat was needed to secure fresh triumphs; for in the things of the Spirit, as in the affairs of the world, there is no conquest without a struggle; and as the soldiers of Rome stood motionless, the conflict was to be brought on by the undisciplined sons of the Reformation. In fact, the magistrates were embarrassed and agitated; they felt the necessity of having their consciences enlightened, and with this view they resolved to appoint another public disputation in the German language, in which the question of idols should be examined according to Scripture.
The Bishops of Coire, Constance, and Basle, the university of the latter city, and the twelve cantons, were accordingly requested to send deputies to Zurich. But the bishops declined the invitation, and calling to mind the wretched figure their deputies had made at the former disputation, they had little inclination to repeat such humiliating scenes. Let the evangelicals dispute if they please, but let them dispute alone. On the first occasion, the Romish party had kept silence; on the second they were resolved not to appear. Rome may possibly have imagined that the great combat would cease for want of combatants. The bishops were not alone in refusing to attend. The men of Unterwalden replied that they had no scholars among them, but only worthy and pious priests, who explained the Gospel as their fathers had done; that they would send no deputy to Zwingle “and his fellows;” but that, if he fell into their hands, they would treat him in such a manner as to deprive him of all wish to relapse into the same faults. Schaffhausen and St. Gall alone sent representatives.
On the 26th of October, after the sermon, an assembly of more than nine hundred persons, composed of members of the Great Council and of three hundred and fifty priests, filled the large hall of the town-house. Zwingle and Leo Juda were seated at a table, on which lay the Old and New Testament in the original languages. Zwingle spoke first, and overthrowing with a vigorous arm the authority of the hierarchy and of its councils, established the rights of every Christian Church, and claimed the liberty of the primitive ages — of those times when the Church knew neither general nor provincial councils. “The universal Church,” said he, “is spread over the whole world, wherever there is faith in Christ, in India as well as at Zurich......And as for particular churches, we have them at Berne, at Schaffhausen, and even here. But the popes, with their cardinals and their councils, form neither the universal Church nor a particular Church. f2076 The assembly before which I now speak,” continued he with energy, “is the Church of Zurich; it desires to hear the Word of God, and it has the right of ordering all that may appear to it conformable with the Holy Scriptures.”
Thus did Zwingle rely on the Church, but on the true Church; not on the clergy alone, but on the assembly of Christians, — on the people. All that the Scriptures say of the Church in general, he applied to particular churches. He did not think that any church could err which listened with docility to the Word of God. In his eyes, the Church was represented politically and ecclesiastically by the Great Council. At first he explained every question from the pulpit; and when his hearers’ minds were convinced of the truth, he carried the matter before the Great Council, who, in harmony with the ministers of the Church, formed such decisions as the Church called for. f2078 In the absence of the bishop’s deputies, Conrad Hoffmann, the same aged canon who had procured Zwingle’s election to Zurich, undertook the defense of the pope. He maintained that the Church, the flock, the “third estate,” had no right to discuss such matters. “I was thirteen years at Heidelberg,” said he, “living in the house of a very great scholar, whose name was Doctor Joss, a worthy and pious man, with whom I long ate and drank and led a merry life; but I always heard him say that it was not proper to discuss such matters; so you see......”All were ready to burst into laughter; but the burgomaster checked them. “Let us therefore wait for a council,” continued Hoffmann. “For the present, I shall not dispute, but obey the bishop’s orders, even should he be a knave!” “Wait for a council!” replied Zwingle. “And who will attend a council? The pope with some sluggish and ignorant bishops who will do nothing but what suits their fancy. No! the Church is not there! Hong and Kussnacht (these were two Zurich villages) are certainly more of a church than all the bishops and popes put together!”
Thus did Zwingle vindicate the rights of the christian people, whom Rome had deprived of their privileges. The assembly before which he was speaking was not, in his judgment, the Church of Zurich, but its first representative. This is the beginning of the Presbyterian system in the age of the Reformation. Zwingle was withdrawing Zurich from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Constance, separating it from the Latin hierarchy, and founding on this idea of the flock, of the christian assembly, a new ecclesiastical constitution, to which other countries were afterwards to adhere.
The disputation continued. Many priests having risen to defend the images, but without having recourse to Holy Writ, Zwingle and the other reformers confuted them by the Bible. “If no one stands forward to defend the use of images by arguments derived from Scripture,” said one of the presidents, “we shall call upon some of their advocates by name.” As no one arose, the priest of Wadischwyl was called. “He is asleep,” answered one of the spectators. The priest of Horgen was next called. “He has sent me in his place,” replied the curate, “but I will not answer for him.”
Evidently the power of God’s Word was making itself felt in this assembly. The partisans of the Reformation were full of energy, liberty, and joy; their adversaries appeared speechless, uneasy, and dejected. They summoned, one after another, the parish-priests of Laufen, Glattfelden, Wetzikon, the rector and priest of Pfaffikon, the dean of Elgg, the priest of Baretschwyl, with the Dominicans and Gray-friars, notorious for their preaching in defense of images, the virgin, the saints, and the mass; but all made answer that they could say nothing in their favor, and that henceforward they would apply themselves to the study of the truth. “Hitherto,” said one of them, “I have put my trust in the old doctors; now, I will believe in the new.” — “You should believe not in us, but in God’s Word,” exclaimed Zwingle. “It is Scripture alone that can never err!” The sitting had been long, and night was approaching. The president, Hofmeister of Schaffhausen, stood up and said: “Blessed by the Almighty and Everlasting God for that in all things he has vouchsafed us the victory;” and he then exhorted the councillors of Zurich to pull down all the images.
On Tuesday the assembly met again in order to discuss the doctrine of the mass. Vadian was in the chair. “My brethren in Christ,” said Zwingle, “far from us be the thought that there is any deception or falsehood in the body and blood of Christ. Our only aim is to show that the mass is not a sacrifice that one man can offer to God for another, unless any one should maintain also that a man can eat and drink for his friend.”
Vadian having twice demanded if any there present desired to uphold by Scripture the doctrine impugned, and no one having replied, the canons of Zurich, the chaplains, and many other ecclesiastics declared that they agreed with Zwingle.
But scarcely had the reformers thus vanquished the partisans of the old doctrines, than they had to contend against those impatient spirits who call for sudden and violent innovations, and not for wise and gradual reforms. The wretched Conrad Grebel rose and said: “It is not enough to have disputed about the mass, we must put an end to its abuses.” — “The council will draw up an edict on the subject,” replied Zwingle. Upon this Simon Stumpf exclaimed: “The Spirit of God has already decided: why refer to the decision of the council?” f2080 The commander Schmidt of Kussnacht arose gravely, and in language full of wisdom said, “Let us teach Christians to receive Christ in their hearts. Until this hour, ye have all gone after idols. The dwellers in the plain have run to the mountains, and those of the mountains have gone to the plain; the French to Germany, and the Germans to France. Now ye know whither ye ought to go. God has combined all things in Christ. Ye noble citizens of Zurich! go to the true source; and may Christ at length re-enter your territory, and there resume his ancient empire.”
This discourse made a deep impression, and no one stood up to reply to it.
Here Zwingle’s agitation became so great that he could not proceed. He wept, and many joined their tears with his. f2082 Thus ended the disputation. The presidents rose; the burgomaster thanked them; and the aged warrior, turning to the council, said gravely, with that voice which had so often been heard on the field of battle, “Now, then,......let us grasp the sword of God’s Word, and may the Lord prosper his work.”
This dispute, which took place in the month of October 1523, was decisive. The majority of the priests, who had been present at it, returned full of zeal to the different parts of the canton, and the effect of these two days was felt throughout Switzerland. The Church of Zurich, that had always preserved a certain independence with respect to the see of Constance, was then entirely emancipated. Instead of resting on the pope through the bishop, it rested henceforward through the people on the Word of God. Zurich recovered the privileges that Rome had taken from her. Town and country vied with each other in interest for the work of the Reformation, and the Great Council did but follow the movements of the people. On all important occasions the city and the villages made known their opinions. Luther had restored the Bible to the christian world; Zwingle went farther, he restored their rights. This is a characteristic feature of the Swiss Reformation. The maintenance of sound doctrine was thus confided, under God, to the people; and recent events have shown that a christian people can guard this precious deposit better than priests and pontiffs. f2083 Zwingle did not allow himself to be elated by victory; on the contrary, the Reformation, according to his wish, was carried on with great moderation. “God knows my heart,” said he, when the council asked his advice; “He knows that I am inclined to build up, and not to throw down. I am aware that there are timid souls who ought to be conciliated; let the mass, therefore, for some time longer be read on Sunday in all the churches, and let us avoid insulting the priests who celebrate it.” f2084 The council drew up an edict to this purport. Hottinger and Hochrutiner, one of his friends, were banished from the canton for two years, and forbidden to return without permission.
The Reformation at Zurich followed a prudent and christian course. Daily raising this city more and more, it surrounded her with glory in the eyes of all the friends of the Word of God. Accordingly those in Switzerland who had saluted the new light that was dawning upon the Church felt themselves powerfully attracted towards Zurich. Oswald Myconius, expelled from Lucerne, had been residing for six months at Einsidlen, when, as he was returning one day from a journey he had made to Glaris, f2085 oppressed by fatigue and by the heat of the sun, he saw his little boy Felix running to meet him, and to tell him that he had been invited to Zurich to superintend one of the schools. Oswald could not believe such joyful tidings: he hesitated between fear and hope. “I am thine,” wrote he at last to Zwingle. Geroldsek saw him depart with regret; gloomy thoughts filled his mind. “Alas!” said he to Oswald, “all those who confess Christ are going to Zurich; I fear that one day we shall all perish there together.” A melancholy presentiment, which by the death of Geroldsek himself and of so many other friends of the Gospel, was but too soon fulfilled on the plains of Cappel.
At Zurich, Myconius found at last a safe retreat. His predecessor, who from his stature had been nicknamed at Paris “the great devil,” had neglected his duties; Oswald devoted all his heart and strength to their fulfillment. He explained the Greek and Latin classics, taught rhetoric and logic, and the youth of the city listened to him with delight. Myconius was destined to become for the rising generation what Zwingle was to those of riper years.
At first Myconius was alarmed at the advanced age of the scholars under his care; but he had gradually resumed his courage, and was not long in distinguishing among his pupils a young man, twenty-four years of age, from whose eyes beamed forth a love of study. Thomas Plater, for such was his name, was a native of the Valais. In that beautiful valley, where the torrent of the Viege rolls its noisy waters, after issuing from the sea of ice and snow which encircles Mount Rosa, between St. Nicholas and Staloen, on the lofty hill that rises on the right bank of the river, may still be seen the village of Grachen. This was Plater’s birthplace. From the neighborhood of these colossal Alps was to proceed one of the most original of all the characters that appeared in the great drama of the sixteenth century. At the age of nine years, he had been placed under the care of a priest who was his relation, by whom the little peasant was often so cruelly beaten that he cried (as he tells us himself) like a kid under the knife. He was taken by one of his cousins to attend the German schools.
But he had already attained the age of twenty years, and yet, through running from school to school, he scarcely knew how to read. When he arrived at Zurich, he came to the determination of gaining knowledge; and having taken his place in Oswald’s school, he said to himself, “There shalt thou learn or die.” The light of the Gospel shown into his heart. One very cold morning, when he had no fuel for the school-room stove, which it was his duty to keep up, he thought to himself: “Why should you want wood, while there are many idols in the church!” There was no one as yet in the church, although Zwingle was to preach, and the bells were already summoning the congregation. Plater entered very softly, laid hold of an image of St. John that stood upon an altar, and thrust it into the stove, saying: “Down with you, for in you must go.” Most assuredly neither Myconius nor Zwingle would have sanctioned such a proceeding.
It was in truth by better arms than these than incredulity and superstition were to be combated. Zwingle and his colleagues had given the hand of fellowship to Myconius; and the latter daily expounded the New Testament in the church of Our Lady before an eager and attentive crowd. Another public disputation, held on the 13th and 14th of January 1524, had again proved fatal to Rome; and in vain did the canon Koch exclaim: “Popes, cardinals, bishops, councils — these are my church!”
Everything was making progress in Zurich; men’s minds were becoming more enlightened, their hearts more decided, and the Reformation was increasing in strength. Zurich was a fortress gained by the new doctrine, and from her walls it was about to spread over the whole confederation.
CHAPTER -Diet of Lucerne — Hottinger arrested — His Death — Deputation from the Diet to Zurich — Abolition of religious Processions — Abolition of Images — The Two Reformations — Appeal to the People.
The adversaries were aware of what might be the consequences of these changes in Zurich. They felt that they must now decide upon striking a vigorous blow. They had been silent spectators long enough. The iron-clad warriors of Switzerland determined to rise at last; and whenever they arose, the field of battle had been dyed with blood.
The diet had met at Lucerne; the clergy were endeavoring to excite the chief council of the nation in their favor. Friburg and the Forest Cantons proved their docile instruments; Berne, Basle, Soleure, Glaris, and Appenzel were undecided. Schaffhausen was inclining towards the Gospel; but Zurich alone stood forward boldly in its defense. The partisans of Rome urged the assembly to yield to their demands and prejudices. “Let the people be forbidden,” said they, “to preach or repeat any new or Lutheran doctrine in private or in public, and to talk or dispute about such things in taverns and over their wine.” Such was the ecclesiastical law they were desirous of establishing in the confederation.
Nineteen articles were drawn up to this effect, approved of by all the states, except Zurich, on the 26th of January 1523, and sent to all the bailiffs with orders to see that they were strictly observed: “which caused great joy among the priests,” says Bullinger, “and great sorrow among believers.” A persecution, regularly organized by the supreme authority of the confederation, was about to begin.
One of the first who received the mandate of the diet was Henry Flackenstein of Lucerne, bailiff of Baden. Hottinger, when banished from Zurich for pulling down the crucifix of Stadelhofen, had retired to this bailiwick, where he had not concealed his opinions. One day, as he chanced to be dining at the Angel tavern in Zurzach, he had said that the priests wrongly interpreted Holy Scripture, and that man should put his trust in God alone. The landlord, who was continually going in and out to bring bread and wine, listened to what appeared to him such very extraordinary language. Another day, Hottinger paid a visit to his friend John Schutz of Schneyssingen. After they had eaten and drunk together, Schutz asked him: “What is this new faith that the Zurich pastors are preaching?” “They preach,” replied Hottinger, “that Christ was sacrificed once for all Christians; that by this one sacrifice he has purified and redeemed them from all their sins; and they show by Holy Scripture that the mass is a lie.”
After this (in February 1523), Hottinger had quitted Switzerland, and gone on business to Waldshut, on the other side of the Rhine. Measures were taken to seize his person, and about the end of the same month the poor unsuspecting Zuricher, having recrossed the river, had scarcely reached Coblentz, a village on the left bank of the Rhine, before he was arrested.
He was taken to Klingenau, and as he there frankly confessed his faith, the exasperated Flackenstein said: “I will take you to a place where you will find people to make you a suitable answer.”
In effect, the bailiff conducted him successively before the judges of Klingenau, before the superior tribunal of Baden, and, since he could find no one who would declare him guilty, before the diet sitting at Lucerne. He was firmly resolved to seek judges who would condemn his prisoner.
The diet lost not time, and condemned Hottinger to be beheaded. When informed of his sentence, he gave glory to God: “That will do,” said James Troger, one of his judges, “we do not sit here to listen to sermons. You can have your talk some other time.” “He must have his head taken off this once,” said the bailiff Am Ort, with a laugh; “if he should ever get it on again, we will all embrace his faith.” “May God forgive all those who have condemned me,” said the prisoner. A monk then presented a crucifix to his lips, but he put it away, saying: “It is in the heart that we must receive Jesus Christ.”
When he was led out to execution, many of the spectators could not refrain from tears. “I am going to eternal happiness,” said he, turning towards them. On reaching the place where he was to die, he raised his hands to heaven, exclaiming: “Into thy hands, O my Redeemer, I commit my spirit!” In another minute his head rolled upon the scaffold.
The blood of Hottinger was hardly cold before the enemies of the Reformation seized the opportunity of still further inflaming the anger of the confederates. It was in Zurich itself that the mischief should be crushed. The terrible example that had just been given must have filled Zwingle and his partisans with terror. Another vigorous effort, and the death of Hottinger would be followed by that of the Reform......The diet immediately resolved that a deputation should be sent to Zurich, calling upon the councils and the citizens to renounce their faith.
The deputation received an audience on the 21st of March. “The ancient christian unity is broken,” said the deputies; “the disease is gaining ground; already have the clergy of the four Forest Cantons declared, that unless the magistrates come to their aid, they must discontinue their functions.
Confederates of Zurich, join your efforts to ours; stifle this new faith; f2093 dismiss Zwingle and his disciples, and then let us all unite to remedy the injuries that have been inflicted on the popes and their courtiers.”
Thus spoke the adversaries: and what would the citizens of Zurich do?
Would their hearts fail them? Had their courage cooled with the blood of their fellow-citizen?
Zurich did not leave her friends or enemies long in suspense. The council announced calmly and nobly that they could make no concessions in what concerned the Word of God; and then proceeded to make a still more forcible reply.
Ever since the year 1351, it had been customary for a numerous procession, each member of which bore a cross, to go on Whitmonday on a pilgrimage to Einsidlen to worship the Virgin. This festival, which had been established in commemoration of the battle of Tatwyll, was attended with great disorders. The procession should have taken place on the 7th of May. On the petition of the three pastors it was prohibited by the council, and all the other processions were reformed in their turn.
They did not stop here. The relics, that source of innumerable superstitions, were honorably interred; and then, at the request of the three pastors, the council published a decree, to the effect that honor being due to God alone, the images should be removed from all the churches of the canton, and their ornaments sold for the benefit of the poor. Twelve councillors, one from each guild, the three pastors, the city-architect, blacksmiths, carpenters, builders, and masons, went into the various churches, and having closed the doors, took down the crosses, defaced the frescoes, whitewashed the walls, and took away the images, to the great delight of the believers, who regarded this proceeding (says Bullinger) as a striking homage paid to the true God. In some of the country churches, the ornaments were burnt “to the honor and glory of God.”
Erelong the organs were taken down, on account of their connection with many superstitious practices; and a baptismal service was drawn up, from which everything unscriptural was excluded.
The burgomaster Roust and his colleague, with their dying eyes joyfully hailed the triumph of the Reformation. They had lived long enough, and they died at the very time of this great renovation of public worship.
The Swiss Reformation here presents itself under an aspect somewhat different from that of the German Reformation. Luther had risen up against the excesses of those who had broken the images in the churches of Wittenberg; and in Zwingle’s presence the idols fell in the temples of Zurich. This difference is explained by the different lights in which the two reformers viewed the same object. Luther desired to maintain in the Church all that was not expressly contrary to the Scriptures, and Zwingle to abolish all that could not be proved by them. The German reformer wished to remain united to the Church of the preceding ages, and was content to purify it of all that was opposed to the Word of God. The Zurich reformer passed over these ages, returned to the apostolic times, and, carrying out an entire transformation of the Church, endeavored to restore it to its primitive condition.
Zwingle’s Reformation was therefore the more complete. The work that Providence had confided to Luther, the restoration of the doctrine of justification by faith, was doubtless the great work of the Reformation; but when this was accomplished, others remained to be done, which, although secondary, were still important; and to these Zwingle’s exertions were more especially directed.
In fact, two mighty tasks had been imposed on the reformers. Christian catholicism, born in the midst of Jewish pharisaism and Greek paganism, had gradually felt the influence of these two religions, which had transformed it into Roman-catholicism. The Reformation that was called to purify the Church, was destined to purge it alike from the Jewish and the pagan element.
The Jewish element prevailed chiefly in that part of the christian doctrine which relates to man. Catholicism had received from Judaism the pharisaical ideas of self-righteousness, of salvation by human strength or works.
The pagan element prevailed especially in that part of the christian doctrine which relates to God. Paganism had corrupted in the catholic church the idea of an infinite Deity whose power, being perfectly allsufficient, is at work in all times and in all places. It had established in the Church the reign of symbols, images, and ceremonies; and the saints had become the demigods of popery.
Luther’s reform was directed essentially against the Jewish element. It was against this element that he had been compelled to struggle, when an impudent monk on behalf of the pope was making a trade of the salvation of souls.
Zwingle’s reform was particularly directed against the pagan element. It was this element with which he had come in contact at the temple of our Lady of Einsidlen, when a crowd, gathered together from every side, fell down blindly before a gilded idol, as of old in the temple of the Ephesian Diana.
The German reformer proclaimed the great doctrine of justification by faith, and with it inflicted a death-blow on the pharisaical righteousness of Rome. The reformer of Switzerland unquestionably did the same; the inability of man to save himself forms the basis of the work of all the reformers. But Zwingle did something more: he established the sovereign, universal, and exclusive agency of God, and thus inflicted a deadly blow on the pagan worship of Rome.
These two tasks, which were specially but not exclusively theirs, were the complement of each other. Luther laid the foundation of the building; Zwingle raised its crowning stone.
It was reserved for a still more capacious genius to impress, from the banks of the Leman lake, these two characters conjointly upon the Reformation. f2097 But while Zwingle was thus advancing with mighty strides to the head of the confederation, the disposition of the cantons became daily more hostile. The Zurich government felt the necessity of relying on the people.
The people, moreover, that is to say the assembly of believers, was, according to Zwingle’s principles, the highest power to which there could be any appeal on earth. It was resolved to test the state of public opinion, and the bailiffs were enjoined to demand of all the parishes whether they were ready to suffer everything for our Lord Jesus Christ, “who,” said the council, “gave his life and his blood for us sinners.” The whole canton had carefully followed the progress of the Reformation in the city; and in many places, the cottages of the peasants had become christian schools, wherein the Holy Scriptures were read.
The proclamation of the council was read and enthusiastically received in every parish. “Let our lords,” answered they, “remain fearlessly attached to the Word of God: we will aid them in upholding it; and if any one seeks to molest them, we will come to their support like brave and loyal fellow-citizens.” The peasantry of Zurich showed then, that the strength of the Church is in the christian people.
But the people were not alone. The man whom God had placed at their head answered worthily to the call. Zwingle appeared to multiply himself for the service of God. All that were enduring persecution in the Helvetic cantons for the cause of the Gospel addressed themselves to him. The responsibility of public affairs, the care of the churches, the anxieties of the glorious conflict that was going on in every valley of Switzerland, weighed heavily upon the evangelist of Zurich. At Wittenberg, the news of his courageous proceedings was received with joy. Luther and Zwingle were two great lights, placed in Upper and Lower Germany; and the doctrine of salvation, so powerfully proclaimed by both, filled the vast tracts that extend from the summit of the Alps to the shores of the Baltic and of the North Sea.
CHAPTER -New Opposition — Abduction of Oexlin — The Family of the Wirths — The Populace at the Convent of Ittingen — The Diet of Zug — The Wirths apprehended and given up to the Diet — Their Condemnation.
The Word of God could not thus invade extensive countries, without its triumphs exasperating the pope in his palace, the priest in his presbytery, and the Swiss magistrates in their councils. Their terror increased from day to day. The people had been consulted; the christian people became of consequence in the Christian Church, and appeals were made to their sympathy and faith and not to the decrees of the Roman chancery! So formidable an attack required a still more formidable resistance. On the 18th of April, the pope addressed a brief to the confederates, and the diet, which met at Zug in the month of July, yielding to the urgent exhortations of the pontiff, sent a deputation to Zurich, Schaffhausen, and Appenzel, commissioned to acquaint these states with the firm resolve of the diet to crush the new doctrine, and to prosecute its adherents to the forfeiture of their goods, their honors, and even their lives. Zurich did not hear this warning without emotion; but a firm reply was made, that, in matters of faith, the Word of God alone must be obeyed. On receiving this answer, Lucerne, Schwytz, Uri, Unterwalden, Friburg, and Zug, trembled with rage; and, unmindful of the reputation and strength the accession of Zurich had formerly given to the infant confederation, forgetting the precedence that had been immediately accorded to her, the simple and solemn oaths that had been made to her, and of the many victories and reverses they had shared with her, — these states declared that they would no longer sit in diet with Zurich. Thus in Switzerland, as in Germany, the partisans of Rome were the first to break the federal unity. But threats and the rupture of alliances were not enough. The fanaticism of the cantons called for blood; and it was soon seen with what arms Rome intended combating the Word of God.
One of Zwingle’s friends, the worthy Oexlin, was pastor of Burg upon the Rhine, in the neighborhood of Stein. The bailiff Am-Berg, who had appeared to listen to the Gospel with delight, being desirous of obtaining that bailiwick, had promised the leading men of Schwytz to root out the new faith. Oexlin, although not within his jurisdiction, was the first upon whom he exercised his severity.
About midnight, on the 7th of July 1524, some persons knocked at the pastor’s door; they were the bailiff’s soldiers who entered the house, seized Oexlin, and carried him away prisoner, in defiance of his cries.
Thinking they meant to assassinate him, he cried “Murder;” the inhabitants started from their beds in affright, and the village soon became the scene of a frightful tumult, which was heard as far as Stein. The sentinel on guard at the castle of Hohenklingen fired the alarm-gun; the tocsin was rung, and the inhabitants of Stein, Stammheim, and the adjoining places, were soon moving, and inquiring of one another in the darkness what was the matter.
At Stammheim lived the deputy-bailiff Wirth, whose two eldest sons, Adrian and John, both young priests full of piety and courage, were preaching the Gospel with great unction. John especially abounded in faith, and was ready to sacrifice his life for his Savior. This was truly a patriarchal family. Hannah, the mother, who had borne the bailiff many children, and brought them up in the fear of the Lord, was revered for her virtues throughout the whole district. At the noise of the tumult in Burg, the father and the two eldest sons went out like their neighbors. The father was indignant that the bailiff of Frauenfeld should have exercised his authority in a manner contrary to the laws of the country. The sons learned with sorrow that their brother, their friend, the man whose good example they were delighted to follow, had been dragged away like a criminal. Each of them seized a halberd, and in spite of the fears of a tender wife and mother, the father and his two sons joined the band of citizens of Stein with the determination of rescuing their pastor. Unhappily, a number of those miscreants who make their appearance in every disorder had joined the expedition; they pursued the bailiff’s officers; the latter, hearing the tocsin and the shouts of alarm, redoubled their speed, dragging their victim after them, and soon placed the river Thur between themselves and their pursuers.
When the people of Stein and Stammheim reached the bank of the river, and found no means of crossing, they halted, and resolved to send a deputation to Frauenfeld. “Oh!” said the bailiff Wirth, “the pastor of Stein is so dear to us, that for his sake I would willingly sacrifice my goods, my liberty, and my life.” The populace, finding themselves near the Carthusian convent of Ittingen, whose inmates were believed to have encouraged the tyranny of the bailiff Am-Berg, entered the building and took possession of the refectory. These miserable wretches soon became intoxicated, and shameful disorders were the consequence. Wirth vainly entreated them to leave the convent; he was in danger of being maltreated by them. His son Adrian remained outside the cloister. John entered, but soon came out again, distressed at what he had seen. The drunken peasants proceeded to ransack the wine-cellars and the storerooms, to break the furniture, and burn the books.
When the news of these disorders reached Zurich, some deputies from the council hastened to the spot, and ordered all persons under the jurisdiction of the canton to return to their homes. They did so immediately. But a body of Thurgovians, attracted by the disturbance, established themselves in the convent, for the sake of its good cheer. On a sudden a fire broke out, no one knew how, and the monastery was burnt to the ground.
Five days after this, the deputies of the cantons met at Zug. Nothing was heard in the assembly but threats of vengeance and death. “Let us march with banners flying on Stein and Stammheim,” said they, “and put the inhabitants to the sword.” The deputy-bailiff and his two sons had long been objects of especial dislike on account of their faith. “If any one is guilty,” said the deputy of Zurich, “he must be punished, but according to the laws of justice, and not by violence.” Vadian, deputy of St. Gall, supported this opinion. Upon this the avoyer John Hug of Lucerne, unable to contain himself any longer, exclaimed with frightful imprecations: f2107 “The heretic Zwingle is the father of all these insurrections; and you too, doctor of St. Gall, are favorable to his infamous cause, and aid him in securing its triumphs......You ought no longer to have a seat among us.”
The deputy of Zug endeavored to restore peace, but in vain. Vadian left the hall, and as the populace had designs upon his life, he quitted the town secretly, and reached the convent of Cappel by a circuitous route.
Zurich, intent on suppressing every disorder, resolved to apprehend provisionally those persons who were marked out by the rage of the confederates. Wirth and his two sons were living quietly at Stammheim. “Never will the enemies of God be able to vanquish His friends,” said Adrian Wirth from the pulpit. The father was warned of the fate impending over him, and was entreated to flee with his two sons. “No,” answered he; “I will wait for the officers, putting my trust in God.” And when the soldiers made their appearance at his house, he said: “My lords of Zurich might have spared themselves all this trouble: if they had only sent a child I should have obeyed their summons.” The three Wirths were taken to Zurich and put in prison. Rutiman, bailiff of Nussbaum, shared their fate. They were strictly examined, but nothing reprehensible was found in their conduct.
As soon as the deputies of the cantons had heard of the imprisonment of these four citizens, they required them to be sent to Baden, and ordered that in case of refusal their troops should march upon Zurich and carry them off by force. “To Zurich belongs the right of ascertaining whether these men are guilty or not,” said the deputies of that state; “and we have found no fault in them.” On this the deputies of the cantons exclaimed: “Will you surrender them to us? Answer yes or no, and not a word more.”
Two deputies of Zurich mounted their horses, and rode off with all haste to their constituents.
On their arrival, the whole town was in agitation. If the prisoners were refused, the confederates would come and seek them with an armed force; to give them up was consenting to their death. Opinions were divided:
Zwingle declared for their refusal. “Zurich,” said he, “ought to remain faithful to its constitution.” At last it was supposed a middle course had been found. “We will deliver the prisoners into your hands,” said they to the diet, “but on condition that you will examine them solely with regard to the affair of Ittingen, and not on their faith.” The diet acceded to this proposition, and on the Friday before St. Bartholomew’s day (18th August 1524) the three Wirths and their friend, accompanied by four councillors of state and several armed men, quitted Zurich.
A deep concern was felt by all the city at the prospect of the fate which awaited the two youths and their aged companions. Sobbing alone was heard as they passed along. “Alas!” exclaims a contemporary, “what a mournful procession!” The churches were all filled. “God will punish us!” cried Zwingle. “Let us at least pray him to impart his grace to these poor prisoners, and to strengthen them in the faith.” f2110 On Friday evening the accused arrived at Baden, where an immense crowd was waiting for them. At first they were taken to an inn, and thence to prison. They could scarcely advance, the crowd so pressed around to catch a sight of them. The father, who walked in front, turned towards his two sons, and observed to them meekly: “See, my dear children, we are (as the apostle says) men appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9). Then, as he saw among the crowd his deadly enemy, Am-Berg, the cause of all his misfortunes, he went up to him and held out his hand, although the bailiff would have turned away: “There is a God in heaven who knows all things,” said he calmly, as he grasped his adversary’s hand.
The examination began on the following day: the bailiff Wirth was first brought in. He was put to the torture, without any regard to his character or his age; but he persisted in declaring his innocence of the pillage and burning of Ittingen. He was then accused of having destroyed an image representing St. Anne. Nothing could be substantiated against the other prisoners, except that Adrian Wirth was married, and preached after the manner of Zwingle and Luther; and that John Wirth had given the sacrament to a sick man without bell and taper. f2111 But the more apparent their innocence, the greater was the fury of their adversaries. From morning until noon they inflicted the cruelest tortures on the old man. His tears could not soften his judges. John Wirth was treated with still greater barbarity. “Tell us,” they asked him in the midst of his anguish, “whence did you learn this heretical faith? From Zwingle or from any other person?” And when he exclaimed, “O merciful and everlasting God, help and comfort me!” “Where is your Christ now?” said one of the deputies. When Adrian appeared, Sebastian of Stein, the Bernese deputy, said to him: “Young man, tell us the truth; for if you refuse to do so, I swear by the knighthood that I gained on the very spot where the Lord suffered martyrdom, that we will open your veins one after another.”
They then fastened the young man to a rope, and hoisted him into the air: “There, my little master,” said Stein with a devilish sneer, “there is your wedding present;” alluding to the marriage of this youthful servant of the Lord.
When the examination was ended, the deputies returned to their cantons to deliver their report, and did not meet again till four weeks after. The bailiff’s wife, the mother of the two priests, repaired to Baden, carrying an infant child in her arms, to intercede with the judges. John Escher of Zurich accompanied her as her advocate. Among the judges he saw Jerome Stocker, landamman of Zug, who had been twice bailiff of Frauenfeld: “Landamman!” said he, “you know the bailiff Wirth; you know that he has always been an upright man.” — “You say the truth, my dear Escher,” replied Stocker, “he has never injured anybody; fellow-citizens and strangers were always kindly welcomed to his table; his house was a convent, an inn, and an hospital; and so, if he had committed robbery or murder, I would have made every exertion to obtain his pardon. But seeing that he has burnt Saint Anne, Christ’s grandmother, he must die!” — “The Lord have mercy upon us,” exclaimed Escher.
The gates were now shut: it was the 28th September, and the deputies of Berne, Lucerne, Uri, Schwytz, Unterwalden, Zug, Glaris, Friburg, and Soleure, having proceeded to deliberate on their judgment with closed doors, as was customary, passed sentence of death on the bailiff Wirth, on his son John, who was the firmest in his faith, and who appeared to have led away the others, and on the bailiff Rutiman. Adrian, the second son, was granted to his mother’s tears.
The officers proceeded to the tower to fetch the prisoners. “My son,” said the father to Adrian, “never avenge our death, although we have not deserved punishment.” Adrian burst into tears. “Brother,” said John, “the cross of Christ must always follow his Word.” f2114 After the sentence was read, the three Christians were led back to prison; John Wirth walking first, the two vice-bailiffs next, and a priest behind them. As they were crossing the castle bridge, on which was a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, the priest called out to the two old men, “Fall down and call upon the saints.” John Wirth, who was in front, turned round at these words and said, “Father, be firm. You know that there is only one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ.” — “Assuredly, my son,” replied the old man, “and by the help of His grace I will continue faithful even to the end.” Upon this they all three began to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven,” and so crossed the bridge.
They were next conducted to the scaffold. John Wirth, whose heart was filled with the tenderest anxiety for his parent, bade him farewell. “My dearly beloved father,” said he, “henceforward thou art no longer my father, and I am no longer thy son, but we are brothers in Christ our Lord, for whose name we must suffer death. Today, if it be God’s pleasure, my beloved brother, we shall go to Him who is the Father of us all. Fear nothing.” “Amen!” replied the old man, “and may God Almighty bless thee, my beloved son and brother in Christ!”
Thus, on the threshold of eternity, did father and son take leave of each other, hailing the new mansions in which they should be united by everlasting ties. The greater part of those around them shed floods of tears. The bailiff Rutiman prayed in silence.
The crowd, observing the marks of torture upon their bodies, gave loud utterance to their grief. The two bailiffs left twenty-two children, and forty-five grandchildren. Hannah was obliged to pay twelve golden crowns to the executioner who had deprived her husband and her son of life.
Thus blood, innocent blood, had been shed. Switzerland and the Reformation were baptized with the blood of the martyrs. The great enemy of the Gospel had done his work; but in doing it, his power was broken. The death of the Wirths was to accelerate the triumphs of the Reformation.
CHAPTER -Abolition of the Mass — Zwingle’s Dream — Celebration of the Lord’s Supper — Fraternal Charity — Original Sin — The Oligarchs opposed to the Reform — Various Attacks.
It was not thought desirable to proceed to the abolition of the mass in Zurich immediately after the suppression of images; but now the proper moment seemed to have arrived.
Not only had the light of the Gospel diffused among the people; but the violence of the blows struck by the enemy called upon the friends of God to reply to them by some impressive demonstration of their unalterable fidelity. Every time that Rome erects a scaffold, and that heads fall upon it, the Reformation will exalt the holy Word of the Lord, and throw down some abuses. When Hottinger was executed, Zurich suppressed images; and now that the heads of the Wirths have rolled on the ground, Zurich will reply by the abolition of the mass. The more Rome increases her cruelties, the more will the Reformation increase in strength.
On the 11th of April 1525, the three pastors of Zurich, accompanied by Megander and Oswald Myconius, appeared before the Great Council, and demanded the re-establishment of the Lord’s Supper. Their language was solemn; all minds were absorbed in meditation; every man felt the importance of the resolution which the council was called upon to take.
The mass, that mystery which for more than three centuries had been the very soul of the religious service of the Latin Church, was to be abolished, the corporeal presence of Christ to be declared an illusion, and the illusion itself removed from the minds of the people. Courage was needed to arrive at such a resolution, and there were men in the council who shuddered at this daring thought. Joachim Am-Grutt, under-secretary of state, alarmed at the bold demand of the pastors, opposed it with all his might. “These words, This is my body,” said he, “unquestionably prove that the bread is the body of Christ himself.” Zwingle observed that esti (is) is the proper word in the Greek language to express signifies, and he quoted several instances in which this word is employed in a figurative sense. The Great Council were convinced and did not hesitate; the Gospel doctrines had penetrated their hearts; besides, as they were separating from the Church of Rome, there was a certain satisfaction in making that separation as complete as possible, and in digging a gulf between it and the Reformation.
Zwingle was seriously engrossed by these thoughts, and when he closed his eyes at night, was still seeking for arguments with which to oppose his adversaries. The subjects that had so strongly occupied his mind during the day present themselves before him in a dream. He fancied that he was disputing with Am-Grutt, and that he could not reply to his principal objection. Suddenly a figure stood before him and said: “Why do you not quote the 11th verse of the 12th chapter of Exodus: Ye shall eat it (the lamb) in haste: it is the Lord’s passover?” Zwingle awoke, sprung out of bed, took up the Septuagint translation, and there found the same word esti (is), which all are agreed is synonymous with signifies in this passage.
Here then, in the institution of the paschal feast under the old covenant, is the very meaning that Zwingle defends. How can he avoid concluding that the two passages are parallel?
On the following day Zwingle preached a sermon on this text, and spoke so forcibly that he removed every doubt.
This circumstance, which admits of so simple an explanation, and the very expression Zwingle employs to show that he could not recall the appearance of the figure he had seen in his dream, have given rise to the assertion that Zwingle received this doctrine from the devil.
The altars had disappeared; plain tables bearing the sacramental bread and wine were substituted in their place, and an attentive crowd pressed round them. There was something particularly solemn in this multitude. On Holy Thursday, the young people, — on Friday, the day of the Passion, the adult men and women, — and on Easter Sunday, the aged, celebrated in turn the death of the Lord. f2119 The deacons read aloud the passages of Scripture that relate to this sacrament; the pastors addressed the flock in an earnest exhortation, calling upon all to retire from this sacred feast who, by persevering in their sin, would pollute the body of Jesus Christ. The people knelt down, the bread was carried round on large platters or wooden plates, and each one broke off a morsel; the wine was next distributed in wooden goblets: in this manner it was thought they made a nearer approach to the simplicity of the primitive Supper. Emotions of surprise or joy filled every heart. f2120 Thus was the Reform carried on in Zurich. The simple celebration of the Lord’s Supper appeared to have shed anew over the Church the love of God and of the brethren. The words of Jesus Christ were once more spirit and life. While the different orders and parties in the Church of Rome were incessantly disputing among themselves, the first effect of the Gospel was to restore charity among the brethren. The love of the first ages was then revived in Christendom. Enemies were seen renouncing their long-cherished and inveterate enmities, and embracing one another after having partaken of the sacramental bread. Zwingle, delighted at these affecting manifestations, returned thanks to God that the Lord’s Supper was again working those miracles of charity which the sacrifice of the mass had long ceased to accomplish. f2121 “Peace dwells in our city,” exclaimed he; “among us there is no fraud, no dissension, no envying, no strife. Whence can proceed such harmony except from the Lord, and that the doctrine we preach inclines us to innocence and peace?” f2122 Charity and unity then prevailed, although there was no uniformity.
Zwingle in his Commentary on True and False Religion, which he dedicated to Francis I in March 1525, the year of the battle of Pavia, had put forward some truths in the manner best calculated to procure their reception by human reason, following in this respect the example of several of the most distinguished scholastic divines. In this way he had given the name of disease to our original corruption, and reserved the appellation of sin for the actual transgression of the law. But these statements, which called forth some objections, did not however interrupt brotherly love; for Zwingle, even when he persisted in calling original sin a disease, added, that all men were lost by this disease, and that Jesus Christ was the only remedy. In this position there is no error of Pelagianism.
But while the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at Zurich was attended by a return to christian brotherhood, Zwingle and his friends had to support a severer struggle against their adversaries from without. Zwingle was not only a christian teacher, he was also a true patriot; and we know how zealously he contended against the foreign capitulations, pensions, and alliances. He felt convinced that these external influences must tend to destroy piety, blind the reason, and scatter discord on every side. But his bold protests were destined to prejudice the advancement of the Reformation. In almost every canton, the chiefs who received the pensions of the foreigner, and the officers who led the youth of Helvetia to battle, formed powerful factions, formidable oligarchies, that attacked the Reformation, not so much on behalf of the Church as on account of the injury it would inflict on their interests and honors. They had already gained the victory in Schwytz; and that canton, where Zwingle, Leo Juda, and Oswald Myconius had taught, and which seemed as if it would walk in the footsteps of Zurich, had suddenly reverted to the mercenary capitulations, and shut its gates against the Reformation.
Even in Zurich, some wretches, instigated by foreign intrigues, attacked Zwingle during the night, flung stones at his house, broke the windows, and called with loud cries for “the red haired Uli, the vulture of Glaris;” so that Zwingle awoke from his sleep and ran to his sword. This action is very characteristic of the man.
But these isolated attacks could not paralyze the movement by which Zurich was carried onward, and which was beginning to shake all Switzerland. They were pebbles thrown into a torrent to check its course.
Everywhere its waters were swelling, threatening to sweep away the most formidable obstacles.
The Bernese having informed the people of Zurich that several states had refused to sit with them in future in the diet: “Well, then,” replied these men of Zurich with calmness, and raising their hands towards heaven, as the heroes of Rutli in old time, “we have the firm assurance that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in whose name the confederation was formed, will not desert us, and will at last, of his great mercy, make us sit at the right hand of his sovereign majesty.” Possessing such faith the Reformation had nothing to fear. But would it gain similar victories in the other states of the confederation? Would not Zurich remain alone on the side of God’s Word? Would Berne, Basle, and other cantons remain subject to the power of Rome? This we shall soon see. Let us therefore turn towards Berne, and study the progress of the Reformation in the most influential state of the confederation.
CHAPTER -Berne — The Provost Watteville — First Successes of the Reformed Doctrines — Haller at the Convent — Accusation and Deliverance — The Monastery of Konigsfeldt — Margaret Watteville to Zwingle — The Convent opened — Two Champions — Clara May and the Provost Watteville.
Nowhere was the struggle likely to be so severe as at Berne, for there the Gospel counted both powerful friends and formidable adversaries. At the head of the reforming party were the banneret John Weingarten, Bartholomew May, member of the Smaller Council, his sons Wolfgang and Claudius, his grandsons James and Benedict, and above all, the family of the Wattevilles. The avoyer James Watteville, who since 1512 had occupied the first station in the republic, had early read the writings of Luther and Zwingle, and had often conversed about the Gospel with John Haller, pastor of Anseltingen, whom he had protected against his persecutors.
His son Nicholas, then thirty-one years of age, had been for two years provost of the church of Berne, and as such, by virtue of the papal ordinances, enjoyed great privileges; accordingly Berthold Haller used to call him “our bishop.” f2128 The prelates and the pope spared no endeavors to bind him to the interests of Rome; and it seemed as if everything would keep him from a knowledge of the Gospel; but the ways of God are more powerful than the flatteries of man. Watteville was turned from darkness to the mild light of the Gospel, says Zwingle. As a friend of Berthold Haller, he read all the letters which the latter received from Zwingle, and could not find language to express his admiration. f2131 The influence of the two Wattevilles, one of whom was at the head of the state and the other of the church, would apparently draw after it the whole republic. But the opposite party was not less powerful.
Amongst its leaders were the schulthess of Erlach, the banneret Willading, and many patricians whose interests were identical with those of the convents under their administration. Behind these influential men were an ignorant and corrupted clergy, who called the evangelical doctrine “an invention of hell.” — “My dear confederates,” said the councillor Mullinen before a full assembly in the month of July, “take care that this Reformation does not come here; at Zurich a man is not safe in his own house, and he is obliged to have a guard to protect him.” Accordingly they invited to Berne the reader of the Dominicans of Mentz, one John Hein, who went into the pulpit and declaimed against the Reformation with the eloquence of a Saint Thomas. f2132 Thus were the two parties drawn up in battle-array against each other; a struggle seemed inevitable, and already the result did not appear doubtful.
In fact, one common faith united a part of the people to the most distinguished families of the state. Berthold Haller exclaimed, full of confidence in the future: “Unless God’s anger be turned against us, it is not possible for the Word of God to be banished from this city, for the Bernese are hungering after it!” f2133 Shortly after this two acts of the government appeared to incline the balance to the side of the Reformation. The Bishop of Lausanne having announced an episcopal visitation, the council intimated to him through the provost Watteville, that he had better refrain from so doing. And at the same time the councils of Berne issued an ordinance which, whilst in appearance it conceded something to the enemies of the Reformation, sanctioned the principles of the new doctrines. They decreed that the Gospel and the doctrine of God, as it is laid down by the books of the Old and New Testament, should be preached exclusively, freely, and openly; and that the ministers should abstain from every doctrine, discussion, or writing, proceeding from Luther or other teachers. Great was the surprise of the adversaries of the Reformation when they saw the evangelical preachers boldly appealing to this ordinance. This decree, which was the basis of all those that succeeded, was the legal commencement of the Reformation in Berne. From that time the progress of this canton was more decided, and Zwingle, whose attentive eyes watched everything that was passing in Switzerland, was able to write to the provost Watteville: “All Christians are overjoyed, on account of the faith which the pious city of Berne has just received.” — “The cause is the cause of Christ,” exclaimed the friends of the Gospel; and they devoted themselves to it with an increase of courage.
They conceived the project of getting rid of these ministers whose bold discourses were overthrowing the most time-honored customs; and it was not long before a favorable opportunity occurred. There existed in Berne, on the spot now occupied by the hospital of the Island, a convent of nuns of St. Dominic, consecrated to St. Michael. The anniversary of the archangel (29th September) was a great festival at the monastery. Many of the clergy were present this year, and among others Wittenbach of Bienne, Sebastian Meyer, and Berthold Haller. Having entered into conversation with the nuns, among whom was Clara, daughter of Claudius May, a supporter of the Reformation, Haller said to her, in the presence of her grandmother: “The merits of the conventual life are imaginary, whilst marriage is an honorable state, instituted by God himself.” Some of the nuns to whom Clara repeated Berthold’s words were horrified at them. “Haller maintains,” was the rumor in the city, “that all nuns are children of the devil.” The opportunity which the enemies of the Reformation were looking for was found. Going before the Smaller Council, they referred to an ancient law which enacted that whoever carried off a nun from her convent should lose his head, but asked for a mitigation of the penalty, and that, without giving the three ministers a hearing, they should be banished for life. The Smaller Council acceded to their prayer, and the matter was immediately carried before the Great Council.
Thus was Berne about to be deprived of her reformers: the intrigues of the papal party were successful. But Rome, who triumphed when she addressed herself to the oligarchs, was beaten before the people or their representatives. Scarcely had they heard the names of Haller, Meyer, and Wittembach, men whom all Switzerland venerated, than an energetic opposition was manifested by the Great Council against the Smaller Council and the clergy. “We cannot condemn the accused unheard,” exclaimed Tillmann; “their testimony is surely as good as that of a few women.” The ministers were called before them: the affair was embarrassing. At length John Weingarten said: “Let us give credit to both parties.” They did so: the ministers were discharged, with an intimation to confine themselves to their pulpits, and not to meddle with the cloisters.
But the pulpit was sufficient for them. The efforts of their adversaries had redounded to their own disgrace. It was a great victory for the Reformation. Accordingly one of the patricians exclaimed: “It is all over now: Luther’s affair must go forward.” f2138 And it did in fact go forward, and in the very places where they expected it the least. At Konigsfeldt, on the Aar, near the castle of Hapsburg, stood a monastery adorned with all the conventual magnificence of the Middle Ages, and where reposed the ashes of several members of that illustrious house which had given so many emperors to Germany. Here the daughters of the greatest families of Switzerland and Swabia used to take the veil. It was not far from the spot where, on the 1st of May 1308, the Emperor Albert had fallen by the hand of his nephew John of Swabia; and the beautiful painted windows of the church of Konigsfeldt represented the horrible punishments that had been inflicted on the relations and vassals of the murderer. Catherine of Waldburg-Truchsess, abbess of the convent at the period of the Reformation, numbered among her nuns Beatrice of Landenberg, sister to the Bishop of Constance, Agnes of Mullinen, Catherine of Bonstetten, and Margaret of Watteville, the provost’s sister.
The liberty enjoyed in this convent, which in former times had given room for scandalous disorders, now permitted the Holy Scriptures with the writings of Zwingle and Luther to be introduced; and soon a new life entirely changed its aspect. Near that cell to which Queen Agnes, Albert’s daughter, had retired, after having bathed in torrents of blood as in “maydew,” and where, plying the distaff or embroidering ornaments for the church, she had mingled exercises of devotion with thoughts of vengeance, — Margaret Watteville had only thoughts of peace, and divided her time between reading the Scriptures and compounding salutary ingredients to form an excellent electuary. Retiring to her cell, this youthful nun had the boldness to write to the doctor of Switzerland. Her letter displays to us, better than any reflections could do, the christian spirit that existed in those pious women, who are still so grievously calumniated even in our own days. “May grace and peace in the Lord Jesus be given and multiplied towards you always by God our heavenly Father,” wrote the nun of Konigsfeldt to Zwingle. “Most learned, reverend, and dear Sir, I entreat you to take in good part the letter I now address to you.
The love which is in Christ constrains me to do so, especially since I have learnt that the doctrine of salvation is spreading day by day through your preaching of the Word of God. For this reason I give praise to the everlasting God for enlightening us anew, and sending us by his Holy Spirit so many heralds of His blessed Word; and at the same time I offer up my ardent prayers that he will clothe with his strength both you and all those who proclaim His glad tidings, and that, arming you against all the enemies of the truth, He will cause his Divine Word to grow in all men. Very learned Sir, I venture to send your reverence this trifling mark of my affection; do not despise it; it is an offering of christian charity. If this electuary does you good, and you should desire more, pray let me know; for it would be a great pleasure to me to do anything that was agreeable to you; and it is not I only who think thus, but all those who love the Gospel in our convent of Konigsfeldt. They salute your reverence in Jesus Christ, and we all commend you without ceasing to His almighty protection. f2139 “Saturday before Laetare, 1523.”
Such was the pious letter that the nun of Konigsfeldt wrote to the doctor of Switzerland.
A convent into which the light of the Gospel had thus penetrated could not persevere in the observances of a monastic life. Margaret Watteville and her sisters, convinced that they could better serve God in the bosom of their families than in the cloister, asked permission to leave it. The council of Berne in alarm endeavored at first to bring these nuns to reason, and the provincial and abbess employed threats and promises by turns; but the sisters Margaret, Agnes, Catherine, and their friends were not to be shaken. Upon this the discipline of the convent was relaxed, the nuns were exempted from fasting and matins, and their allowance was increased. “It is not the liberty of the flesh that we require,” said they to the council; “it is that of the spirit. We, your poor and innocent prisoners, entreat you to have pity on us!” — “Our prisoners! our prisoners!” exclaimed the banneret Krauchthaler, “they shall be no prisoners of mine!” This language from one of the firmest supporters of the convents decided the council; the convent gates were opened, and shortly after, Catherine Bonstetten was married to William of Diesbach.
And yet Berne, far from siding openly with the reformers, held a middle course, and endeavored to pursue a see-saw system. An opportunity soon occurred for showing this vacillating procedure. Sebastian Meyer, reader of the Franciscans, published a retractation of his Romish errors, which created a great sensation, and in which, describing a conventual life, he said: “In the convents the monks live more impurely, fall more frequently, recover themselves more tardily, walk more unsteadily, rest more dangerously, are pitied more rarely, are cleansed more slowly, die more despairingly, and are condemned more severely.” At the very time Meyer was thus denouncing the cloisters, John Heim, reader of the Dominicans, was exclaiming from the pulpit: “No! Christ has not, as the evangelists teach, made satisfaction to his Father once for all. It is further necessary that God should every day be reconciled to man by the sacrifice of the mass and by good works.” Two citizens who chanced to be present, interrupted him by saying: “It is not true.” There was immediately a great disturbance in the church; Heim remained silent; many persons urged him to continue, but he left the pulpit without finishing his sermon. On the morrow, the Great Council struck a blow at once against Rome and the Reformation; they turned the two great controversialists, Meyer and Heim, out of the city. “They are neither muddy nor clear,” it was said of the Bernese, playing on the word Luther, which in old German signifies clear. f2142 But in vain did they seek to stifle the Reformation in Berne. It was advancing on every side. The sisters of the convent of the Island had not forgotten Haller’s visit. Clara May and several of her friends, anxiously pondering on what they ought to do, wrote to the learned Henry Bullinger. “St. Paul,” replied he, “enjoins young women not to make vows, but to marry, and not to live in idleness under a false show of piety. (1 Timothy 5:13,14.) Follow Jesus Christ in humility, charity, patience, purity, and kindness.” Clara, praying for help from on high, resolved to adopt this advice, and renounce a life so contrary to the Word of God, invented by men, and fraught with temptation and sin. Her father Bartholomew, who had spent fifty years on the battle-field or in the council-chamber, heard of his daughter’s resolution with delight. Clara left the convent.
The provost Nicholas Watteville, whose whole interest bound him to the Roman hierarchy, and who was to be raised to the first vacant bishopric in Switzerland, also renounced his titles, his revenues, and his expectations, that he might preserve an unspotted conscience; and snapping all the bonds by which the popes had endeavored to entangle him, he entered into the marriage state, established by God from the creation of the world.
Nicholas Watteville married Clara May; and about the same time, her sister Margaret, the nun of Konigsfeldt, was united to Lucius Tscharner of Coire. f2144 CHAPTER -Basle — Oecolampadius — He visits Augsburg — Enters a Convent — Retires to Sickingen’s Castle — Returns to Basle — Ulrich Hutten — His Plans — Last Effort of Chivalry — Hutten dies at Ufnau.
Thus everything announced the triumphs that the Reformation would soon obtain at Berne. Basle, a city of no less importance, and which was then the Athens of Switzerland, was also arming herself for the great combat that has distinguished the sixteenth century.
Each of the cities of the confederation had its peculiar character. Berne was the city of the great families, and it seemed that the question would be decided by the part adopted by certain of the leading men. At Zurich, the ministers of the Word, — Zwingle, Leo Juda, Myconius, and Schmidt, — carried with them a powerful class of citizens. Lucerne was the city of arms and military capitulations; Basle, of learning and the printing-press.
Here Erasmus, the head of the literary republic in the sixteenth century, had taken up his abode; and preferring the liberty he enjoyed in this capital to the flattering invitations of popes and kings, he had become the center of a numerous concourse of men of letters.
But an humble, meek, and pious man, though in genius far inferior to Erasmus, was destined erelong to exercise in this very city a more powerful influence than that of the prince of the schools. Christopher of Utenheim, bishop of Basle, in concert with Erasmus, was endeavoring to surround himself with men fitted to accomplish a kind of half-way Reformation. With this view he had invited Capito and Oecolampadius to his court. In the latter person there was a taint of monasticism that often annoyed the illustrious philosopher. But Oecolampadius soon became enthusiastically attached to him; and perhaps would have lost all independence in this close intimacy, if Providence had not separated him from his idol. In 1517, he returned to Weinsberg, his native place, where he was soon disgusted with the disorders and profane jests of the priests. He has left us a noble monument of the serious spirit which then animated him, in his celebrated work on The Easter Revels, which appears to have been written about that time. f2145 Having been invited to Augsburg about the end of 1518, as cathedral preacher, he found that city still agitated by the famous conference held there in the month of May between Luther and the papal legate. He had to decide between one party and the other; Oecolampadius did not hesitate, and declared in favor of the reformer. This frankness soon gave rise to a violent opposition against him; and feeling convinced that his timidity and the weakness of his voice would be prejudicial to his success in the world, he looked around him, and fixed his eyes on a convent of monks of Saint Bridget, near Augsburg, celebrated for their piety and their profound and liberal studies. Feeling the need of repose, of leisure, of study, and of prayer, he turned towards these friars, and inquired: “Can I live among you according to the Word of God?” The latter having replied in the affirmative, Oecolampadius entered the monastery on the 23rd of April 1520, with the express condition that he should be free, if ever the service of God’s Word should call him elsewhere.
It was well that the future reformer of Basle should, like Luther, become acquainted with that monastic life which is the highest expression of Roman-catholicism. But here he found no repose; his friends blamed the step; and he himself openly declared that Luther was nearer the truth than his adversaries. Accordingly, Eck and the other Romish doctors pursued him with their menaces, even in his calm retreat.
At this time, Oecolampadius was neither reformed nor a follower of Rome; he desired a certain purified catholicism, which is nowhere to be found in history, but the idea of which has often bridged the way to many minds.
He began to correct the rules of his order in conformity with the Word of God. “Do not, I beseech you,” said he to his brethren, “set a higher value upon your statutes than on the ordinances of God!” — “We desire no other law,” replied the brothers, “than that of our Savior. Take our books, and mark, as if in the presence of Christ himself, whatever you find contrary to His Word.” Oecolampadius applied himself to the task, but was almost wearied by the labor. “O Almighty God!” exclaimed he, “what abominations has not Rome approved of in these statutes!”
As soon as he pointed out some of them, the anger of the monks was aroused. “Heretic!” exclaimed they, “apostate! you deserve to be thrown into a dungeon for the rest of your days!” They excluded him from public prayers. But the danger from without was still greater. Eck and his party had not relinquished their projects. “In three days,” he was told, “they will be here to arrest you.” He went to the brethren and said, “Will you give me up to assassins?” The monks were silent and undetermined; they neither wished to save nor destroy him. At this moment some friends of Oecolampadius arrived near the cloister with horses to carry him to a place of safety. On being informed of this, the monks resolved to allow the departure of a brother who had brought trouble into their convent. “Farewell,” said he, and was free. He had remained nearly two years in the cloister of Saint Bridget.
Oecolampadius was saved; at last he began to breathe. “I have sacrificed the monk,” wrote he to a friend, “and have regained the Christian.” But his flight from the convent and his heretical writings were known everywhere, and everywhere people shrunk back at his approach. He knew not what would become of him, when, in the spring of 1522, Sickingen offered him an asylum, which he accepted.
His mind, oppressed by monastic servitude, took a new flight in the midst of the noble warriors of Ebernburg. “Christ is our liberty,” exclaimed he, “and death, which men consider their greatest misfortune, is a real gain to us.” He directly began reading the Gospels and Epistles in German to the people. “As soon as these trumpets sound,” said he, “the walls of Jericho will fall down.”
Thus, in a fortress on the banks of the Rhine, and in the midst of illiterate warriors, the most humble man of his age was preparing for that change of worship which Christianity was shortly to undergo. But Ebernburg was too confined for him, and he felt the need of other society than these armed men. The bookseller Cratander invited him to Basle; Sickingen allowed him to depart, and Oecolampadius, delighted at the thought of seeing his old friends again, arrived in that city on the 16th of November 1522. After having lived there some time, simply as a man of learning without any public occupation, he was nominated curate of Saint Martin’s church, and it was this call to an humble and obscure employment that possibly decided the Reformation of Basle. An immense crowd filled the church whenever Oecolampadius went into the pulpit. At the same time the public lectures delivered by himself and Pellican were crowned with such success that even Erasmus was forced to exclaim, “Oecolampadius triumphs.” f2148 In effect, this mild yet firm man (says Zwingle) spread around him the sweet savor of Christ, and all those who crowded about him grew in truth. Often, indeed, a rumor was circulated that he would be forced to leave Basle and recommence his perilous pilgrimage. His friends, Zwingle in particular, were alarmed; but erelong the tidings of fresh victories gained by Oecolampadius scattered their fears and raised their hopes. The renown of his lectures extended even to Wittenberg, and delighted Luther, who talked with Melancthon about him every day. And yet the Saxon reformer was not without anxiety. Erasmus was at Basle, and Erasmus was the friend of Oecolampadius......Luther thought it his duty to put the man whom he loved on his guard. “I much fear,” wrote he, “that Erasmus, like Moses, will die in the country of Moab, and never lead us into the land of promise.” f2150 Erasmus had taken refuge at Basle, as in a quiet city, lying in the center of the literary movement, and from the bosom of which he could, by means of the press of Frobenius, act upon France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and England. But he did not like men to come and trouble him there; and if he looked upon Oecolampadius with suspicion, another man inspired him with still greater apprehension. Ulrich Hutten had followed Oecolampadius to Basle. For a long while he had been attacking the pope, as one knight engages with another. “The axe,” said he, “is already laid at the root of the tree. Germans! faint not in the heat of the battle; the die is cast; the work is begun......Liberty for ever!” He had abandoned Latin, and now wrote only in German; for it was the people he wished to address.
His views were noble and generous. It was his idea that there should be an annual meeting of the bishops to regulate the interests of the Church. A christian constitution, and above all a christian spirit, was to go forth from Germany, as from Judea in other times, and spread through the whole world. Charles V was to be the youthful hero appointed to realize this golden age; but Hutten, having seen the failure of his hopes in this quarter, had turned towards Sickingen, and sought from knighthood what the empire had refused him. Sickingen, at the head of the feudal nobility, had played a distinguished part in Germany; but the princes had besieged him in his castle of Landstein, and the new invention of cannons had crushed those aged walls, accustomed to other attacks. The taking of Landstein had proved the final defeat of chivalry, — the decisive victory of artillery over shields and lances, — the triumph of modern times over the middle ages. Thus the last exploit of the knights was destined to be in favor of the Reformation; the first effort of these new arms and system of warfare was to be against it. The mailed warriors that fell beneath the unlooked for storm of balls, and lay among the ruins of Landstein, gave way to other soldiers. Other conflicts were about to begin; a spiritual chivalry succeeded to that of the Du Guesclins and Bayards. And those old and ruined battlements, those battered walls, these dying heroes, proclaimed with greater energy than even Luther could have done, that not by such allies or such arms would the Gospel of the Prince of peace obtain the victory.
The fall of Landstein and of chivalry had blasted all Hutten’s hopes.
Standing beside the corpse of Sickingen, he bade farewell to those brighter days which his imagination had conjured up before him, and losing all confidence in man, he sought only for seclusion and repose. In search of these he visited Erasmus in Switzerland. These two men had long been friends; but the unpolished and turbulent knight, braving the opinions of others, ever ready to lay his hand upon the sword, dealing his blows right and left on all whom he met, could scarcely live in harmony with the squeamish and timid Dutchman, with his refined manners, his mild and polished language, his love of approbation, and his readiness to sacrifice everything for its sake, and fearing nothing in the world so much as a dispute. On arriving at Basle, Hutten, poor, sick, and a fugitive, immediately inquired for his old friend. But Erasmus trembled at the thought of receiving at his table a person under the ban of the pope and the emperor, who would spare no one, who would borrow money of him, and would no doubt be dragging after him a crowd of those “Gospellers” whom Erasmus dreaded more and more. He refused to see him, and shortly after, the magistrates of Basle desired Hutten to leave the city. Wounded to the quick, and exasperated against his timid friend, Hutten repaired to Mulhausen, and there published a violent pamphlet against Erasmus, to which the latter replied in a paper overflowing with wit. The knight had grasped his sword with both hands, and aimed a crushing blow at his antagonist; the scholar, adroitly stepping aside, pecked the soldier smartly in return. f2153 Hutten was again compelled to flee; he reached Zurich, and there met with a generous reception from the noble-hearted Zwingle. But intrigues again compelled him to leave that city; and after passing some time at the baths of Pfeffers, he repaired with a letter from the Swiss reformer to the pastor of John Schnepp, who inhabited the small island of Ufnau in the lake of Zurich. This poor minister entertained the sick and fugitive knight with the most touching charity. It was in this peaceful and obscure retreat that Ulrich Hutten, one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century, died obscurely about the end of August 1523, after a most agitated life, expelled by one party, persecuted by another, deserted by nearly all, and having always contended against superstition, but, as it would seem, without having ever possessed the truth. The poor pastor, who had some skill in the healing art, had vainly lavished on him all his cares. With him chivalry expired. He left neither money, nor furniture, nor books; — nothing in the world but a pen. Thus was broken the arm of iron that had presumed to support the ark of God.
CHAPTER -Erasmus and Luther — Vacillations of Erasmus — Luther to Erasmus — Erasmus’s Treatise against Luther on Free Will — Three Opinions — Effect upon Luther — Luther on Free Will — The Jansenists and the Reformers — Homage to Erasmus — His Anger — The Three Days.
There was in Germany a man more formidable to Erasmus than the illfated Hutten: this was Luther. The moment had now arrived when these two great champions of the age were to measure their strength hand to hand. The two reformations at which they arrived were very different.
While Luther desired a thorough reform, Erasmus, a friend to halfmeasures, was endeavoring to obtain concessions from the hierarchy that would unite the extreme parties. The vacillations and inconsistency of Erasmus disgusted Luther. “You desire to walk upon eggs without crushing them,” said the latter, “and among glasses without breaking them.” f2155 At the same time he met the vacillations of Erasmus with absolute decision. “We Christians,” said he, “ought to be sure of our doctrine, and able to say yes or no without hesitation. To presume to hinder us from affirming our belief will full conviction, is depriving us of faith itself. The Holy Ghost is no sceptic; and He has written in our hearts a firm and strong assurance, which makes us as certain of our faith as we are of life itself.”
These words alone suffice to show us on which side strength was to be found. To accomplish a religious transformation, there is need of a firm and living faith. A salutary revolution in the Church will never proceed from philosophical views and mere human opinions. To fertilize the earth after a long drought, the lightning must cleave the cloud and the windows of heaven must be opened. Criticism, philosophy, and even history may prepare the way for the true faith, but cannot supply its place. In vain would you clear the water-courses and repair the dikes, so long as the rain does not come down from heaven. All human learning without faith is but an aqueduct without water.
Whatever might have been the essential difference between Luther and Erasmus, the friends of Luther, and even the reformer himself, had long hoped to see Erasmus unite with them against Rome. Many sayings which his caustic humor let fall were quoted, as showing his disagreement with the most zealous defenders of Romanism. One day, for instance, when he was in England, he had a keen discussion with Thomas More on transubstantiation: “Believe that you have the body of Christ,” said the latter, “and you have it really.” Erasmus made no reply. Shortly after, when leaving England, More lent him a horse to carry him to the seaside; but Erasmus took it with him to the Continent. As soon as More was informed of this, he wrote very severely to him about it. Erasmus, by way of reply, sent him these lines: — “You said of the bodily presence of Christ:
Believe that you have, and you have him!
Of the nag that I took my reply is the same:
Believe that you have, and you have him!” f2157 It was not only in England and Germany that Erasmus had thus become known. It was said at Paris that Luther had only opened the door, after Erasmus had picked the lock. f2158 The position taken by Erasmus was by no means easy: “I shall not be unfaithful to the cause of Christ,” wrote he to Zwingle, “at least so far as the age will permit me.” In proportion as he beheld Rome rising up against the friends of the Reformation, he prudently retreated. He was applied to from all quarters; the pope, the emperor, kings, princes, scholars, and even his most intimate friends, entreated him to write against the reformer. “No work,” wrote the pope, “can be more acceptable to God, and worthier of yourself and of your genius.” f2161 Erasmus long resisted these solicitations; he could not conceal from himself that the cause of the reformers was the cause of religion as well as of letters. Besides, Luther was an adversary with whom every one feared to try his strength, and Erasmus already imagined he felt the quick and vigorous blows of the Wittenberg champion. “It is very easy to say, Write against Luther,” replied he to a Romish theologian; “but it is a matter full of peril.” Thus he would — and yet he would not.
This irresolution on the part of Erasmus drew on him the attacks of the most violent men of both parties. Luther himself knew not how to reconcile the respect he felt for Erasmus’s learning with the indignation he felt at his timidity. Resolving to free himself from so painful a dilemma, he wrote him a letter in April 1524, which he intrusted to Camerarius. “You have not yet received from the Lord,” said Luther, “the courage necessary to walk with us against the papists. We put up with your weakness. If learning flourishes: if by its means the treasures of Scripture are opened to all; this is a gift which God has bestowed on us through you; a noble gift, and for which our thanksgivings ascend to heaven! But do not forsake the task that has been imposed on you, and pass over our camp. No doubt your eloquence and genius might be very useful to us; but since you are wanting in courage, remain where you are. I could wish that our people would allow your old age to fall asleep peacefully in the Lord. The greatness of our cause has long since gone beyond your strength. But on the other hand, my dear Erasmus, refrain from scattering over us with such profusion that pungent salt which you know so well how to conceal under the flowers of rhetoric; for it is more dangerous to be slightly wounded by Erasmus than to be ground to powder by all the papists put together. Be satisfied to remain a spectator of our tragedy; and publish no books against me; and for my part, I will write none against you.”
Thus did Luther, the man of strife, ask for peace; it was Erasmus, the man of peace, who began the conflict.
Erasmus received this communication from the reformer as the bitterest of insults; and if he had not yet determined to write against Luther, he probably did so then. “It is possible,” he replied, “that Erasmus by writing against you will be of more service to the Gospel than certain dunces who write for you, and who do not permit him to be a simple spectator of this tragedy.”
But he had other motives besides.
Henry VIII of England, and the nobility of that kingdom, earnestly pressed him to declare himself openly against the Reformation. Erasmus, in a moment of courage, suffered the promise to be wrung from him. His equivocal position had become a source of constant trouble to him; he loved repose, and the necessity he felt of continually justifying his conduct disturbed his existence; he was fond of glory, and already men were accusing him of fearing Luther, and of being too weak to answer him; he was accustomed to be highest seat, and the little monk of Wittenberg had dethroned the mighty philosopher of Rotterdam. He must then, by some bold step, recover the position he had lost. All Christendom that adhered to the old worship implored him to do so. A capacious genius and the greatest reputation of the age were wanted to oppose the Reformation.
Erasmus answered the call.
But what weapons will he employ? Will he hurl the thunders of the Vatican? Will he defend the abuses that disgrace the papacy? Erasmus could not act thus. The great movement that agitated men’s minds after the lethargy of so many centuries filled him with joy, and he would have feared to trammel it. Unable to be the champion of Romanism in what it has added to Christianity, he undertook to defend it in what it had taken away. It attacking Luther, Erasmus selected the point where Romanism is lost in Rationalism, — the doctrine of free will, or the natural power of man. Thus, while undertaking the defense of the Church, Erasmus gratified the men of the world, and while battling for the popes, he contended also on behalf of the philosophers. It has been said that he had injudiciously confined himself to an obscure and unprofitable question. Luther, the reformers, and their age, judged very differently; and we agree with them. “I must acknowledge,” said Luther, “that in this controversy you are the only man that has gone to the root of the matter. I thank you for it with all my heart; for I would rather be occupied with this subject than with all those secondary questions about the pope, purgatory, and indulgences, with which the enemies of the Gospel have hitherto pestered me.” f2166 His own experience and an attentive study of the Holy Scriptures, and of St. Augustine, had convinced Luther that the natural powers of man are so inclined to evil, that he cannot, of himself, reach any farther than a certain outward rectitude, altogether insufficient in the eyes of the Deity. He had at the same time recognized that it was God who gives true righteousness, by carrying on freely the work of faith in man by his Holy Spirit. This doctrine had become the mainspring of his religion, the predominant idea in his theology, and the point on which the whole Reformation turned.
While Luther maintained that every good thing in man came down from God, Erasmus sided with those who thought that this good proceeded from man himself. God or man, — good or evil, — these are certainly no paltry questions; and if “trivialities” exist, they must be looked for elsewhere.
It was in the autumn of 1524 that Erasmus published his famous treatise entitled Dissertation on the Freedom of the Will; and it had no sooner appeared, than the philosopher could hardly believe his own boldness.
With eyes fixed on the arena, he looked tremblingly at the gauntlet he had flung to his adversary. “The die is cast,” wrote he with emotion to Henry VIII; “the book on free will has appeared. — Trust me, this is a daring act.
I expect I shall be stoned for it. — But I console myself by the example of your majesty, whom the rage of these people has not spared.” f2167 His alarm soon increased to such a degree that he bitterly regretted the step he had taken. “Why was I not permitted to grow old in the garden of the Muses?” exclaimed he. “Here am I, at sixty, driven into the arena, and holding the cestus and the net of the gladiator, instead of the lyre! — I am aware,” wrote he to the Bishop of Rochester, “that in writing upon free will, I have gone beyond my sphere......You congratulate me upon my triumphs! Ah! I know not that I triumph. The faction (i.e. the Reformation) is spreading daily. Was it then fated, that at my time of life I should be transformed from a friend of the Muses into a wretched gladiator!”
It was no doubt an important matter for the timid Erasmus to have risen up against Luther; he was, however, far from showing any very great boldness. In his book he seems to ascribe but little to man’s will, and to leave the greater portion to Divine grace; but at the same time he chose his arguments in a manner to make it be believed that man does everything, and God nothing. Not daring openly to express his thoughts, he affirms one thing and proves another; and hence we may be allowed to suppose that he believed what he proved and not what he affirmed.
He distinguishes three several opinions, opposed in three different degrees to Pelagianism. “Some think,” said he, “that man can neither will, nor commence, and still less perform, any good work, without the special and continual aid of Divine grace; and this opinion seems probable enough.
Others teach that man’s will is powerless except for evil, and that it is grace alone which works in us any good; and finally, there are some who assert that there has never been any free will either in angels, or in Adam, or in us, either before or after grace, but that God works in man both good and evil, and that everything happens from an absolute necessity.” f2169 Erasmus, while seeming to admit the former of these opinions, makes use of arguments that confute it, and which the most decided Pelagian might employ. In this manner, quoting the passages of Scripture in which God offers man the choice between good and evil, he adds: “Man must therefore have the power to will and to choose; for it would be ridiculous to say to any one, Choose! when it was not in his power to do so.”
Luther did not fear Erasmus. “Truth,” said he, “is mightier than eloquence.
The victory remains with him who lisps out the truth, and not with him who puts forth a lie in flowing language.” But when he received Erasmus’s treatise in the month of October 1524, he found it so weak that he hesitated to reply to it. “What! so much eloquence in so bad a cause!” said he; “it is as if a man were to serve up mud and dung on dishes of silver and gold. One cannot lay hold of you. You are like and eel that slips through the fingers; or like the fabulous Proteus who changed his form in the very arms of those who wished to grasp him.”
But as Luther did not reply, the monks and scholastic divines began to utter shouts of victory: “Well, where is your Luther now? Where is the great Maccabeus? Let him come down into the lists! let him come forth!
Ah, ah! he has met his match at last! He has learnt now to remain in the back-ground; he has found out how to hold his tongue.” f2172 Luther saw that he must write an answer; but it was not until the end of the year 1525 that he prepared to do so; and Melancthon having informed Erasmus that Luther would be moderate, the philosopher was greatly alarmed. “If I have written with moderation,” said he, “it is my disposition; but Luther possesses the wrath of Peleus’ son (Achilles). And how can it be otherwise? When a vessel braves a storm such as that which has burst upon Luther, what anchor, what ballast, what helm does it not require to prevent it from being driven out of its course! If therefore he replies to me in a manner not in accordance with his character, these sycophants will cry out that we are in collusion.” We shall see that Erasmus was soon relieved of this apprehension.
The doctrine of God’s election as the sole cause of man’s salvation had always been dear to the reformer; but hitherto he had considered it in a practical light only. In his reply to Erasmus, he investigated it particularly in a speculative point of view, and endeavored to establish by such arguments as appeared to him most conclusive, that God works everything in man’s conversion, and that our hearts are so alienated from the love of God that they cannot have a sincere desire for righteousness, except by the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. “To call our will a free will,” said he, “is to imitate those princes who accumulate long titles, styling themselves lords of sundry kingdoms, principalities, and distant islands (of Rhodes, Cyprus, and Jerusalem, etc.), while they have not the least power over them.” Here, however, Luther makes an important distinction, clearly showing that he by no means participated in the third opinion that Erasmus had pointed out and imputed to him. “Man’s will may be called a free will, not in relation to that which is above him, that is to say, to God; but with respect to that which is below, that is, to the things of the earth. As regards my property, my fields, my house, my farm, I can act, do, and manage freely. But in the things of salvation, man is a captive; he is subjected to the will of God, or rather of the devil. Show me but one of all these advocates of free will (he exclaims) that has found in himself sufficient strength to endure a trifling injury, a fit of anger, or merely a look from his enemy, and bear it with joy; then — without even asking him to be ready to give up his body, his life, his wealth, his honor, and all things — I acknowledge you have gained your cause.” f2176 Luther’s glance was too penetrating not to discover the contradictions into which his opponent had fallen. And accordingly, in his reply he endeavors to fasten the philosopher in the net in which he had entangled himself. “If the passages you quote,” said he, “establish that it is easy for us to do good, why do we dispute? What need have we of Christ and of the Holy Ghost? Christ would then have acted foolishly in shedding his blood to acquire for us a power that we already possessed by nature.” In truth, the passages cited by Erasmus must be taken in quite a different sense. This much debated question is clearer than it appears to be at first sight. When the Bible says to man, Choose, it presupposes the assistance of God’s grace, by which alone he can do what it commands. God, in giving the commandment, also gives the strength to fulfill it. If Christ said to Lazarus, Come forth, it was not that Lazarus had power to restore himself; but that Christ, by commanding him to leave the sepulcher, gave him also the strength to do so, and accompanied His words with His creative power.
He spoke, and it was done. Moreover, it is very true that the man to whom God speaks must will; it is he who wills, and not another; he can receive this will but from God alone; but it is in him that this will must be, and the very commandment that God addresses to him, and which, according to Erasmus, establishes the ability of man, is so reconcilable with the workings of God, that it is precisely by these means that the working is effected. It is by saying to the man “Be converted,” that God converts him.
But the idea on which Luther principally dwelt in his reply is, that the passages quoted by Erasmus are intended to teach men their duty, and their inability to perform it, but in no way to make known to them the pretended power ascribed to them. “How frequently it happens,” says Luther, “a father calls his feeble child to him, and says: ‘Will you come, my son! come then, come!’ in order that the child may learn to call for his assistance, and allow himself to be carried.” f2177 After combating Erasmus’s arguments in favor of free will, Luther defends his own against the attacks of his opponent. “Dear Dissertation,” says he ironically, “mighty heroine, who pridest thyself in having overthrown these words of our Lord in St. John: Without me ye can doNOTHING, which thou regardest nevertheless as the prop of my argument, and callest it Luther’s Achilles, listen to me. Unless thou canst prove that this word nothing, not only may but must signify little, all thy high-sounding phrases, thy splendid examples, have no more effect than if a man were to attempt to quench an immense fire with a handful of straw. What are such assertions as these to us: This may mean; that may be understood......whilst it was thy duty to show us that is must be so understood......Unless thou doest so, we take this declaration in its literal meaning, and laugh at all thy examples, thy great preparations, and thy pompous triumphs.” f2178 Finally, in a concluding part, Luther shows, and always from Scripture, that the grace of God does everything. “In short,” says he at the end, “since Scripture everywhere contrasts Christ with that which has not the spirit of Christ; since it declares that all which is not Christ and in Christ is under the power of error, darkness, the devil, death, sin, and the wrath of God, it follows that all these passages of the Bible that speak of Christ are opposed to free will. Now such passages are numberless; the Holy Scriptures are full of them.” f2179 We perceive that the discussion which arose between Luther and Erasmus is the same as that which a century after took place between the Jansenists and Jesuits, between Pascal and Molina. How is it that, while the results of the Reformation were so immense, Jansenism, though adorned by the noblest geniuses, wasted and died away? It is because Jansenism went back to Augustine and relied on the Fathers; while the Reformation went back to the Bible and leant upon the Word of God. It is because Jansenism entered into a compromise with Rome, and wished to establish a middle course between truth and error, while the Reformation, relying upon God alone, cleared the soil, swept away all the rubbish of past ages, and laid bare the primitive rock. To stop half way is a useless work; in all things we should persevere to the end. Accordingly, while Jansenism has passed away, the destinies of the world are bound up with evangelical Christianity.
Further, after having keenly refuted error, Luther paid a brilliant but perhaps a somewhat sarcastic homage to Erasmus himself. “I confess,” said he, “that you are a great man; where have we ever met with more learning, intelligence, or ability, both in speaking and writing? As for me, I possess nothing of the kind; there is only one thing from which I can derive any glory, — I am a Christian. May God raise you infinitely above me in the knowledge of the Gospel, so that you may surpass me as much in this respect as you do already in every other.” f2181 Erasmus was beside himself when he read Luther’s reply; and would see nothing in his encomiums but the honey of a poisoned cup, or the embrace of a serpent at the moment he darts his envenomed sting. He immediately wrote to the Elector of Saxony, demanding justice; and Luther having desired to appease him, he lost his usual temper, and, in the words of one of his most zealous apologists, began “to pour forth invectives with a broken voice and hoary hair.” f2182 Erasmus was vanquished. Hitherto, moderation had been his strength, — and he had lost it. Passion was his only weapon against Luther’s energy.
The wise man was wanting in wisdom. He replied publicly in his Hyperaspistes, accusing the reformer of barbarism, lying, and blasphemy.
The philosopher even ventured on prophesying. “I prophesy,” said he, “that no name under the sun will be held in greater execration than Luther’s.” The jubilee of 1817 has replied to this prophecy, after a lapse of three hundred years, by the enthusiasm and acclamations of the whole Protestant world.
Thus, while Luther with the Bible was setting himself at the head of his age, Erasmus, standing up against him, wished to occupy the same place with philosophy. Which of these two leaders has been followed? Both undoubtedly. Nevertheless Luther’s influence on the nations of Christendom has been infinitely greater than that of Erasmus. Even those who did not thoroughly understand the grounds of the dispute, seeing the conviction of one antagonist and the doubts of the other, could not refrain from believing that the first was right and the second wrong. It has been said that the three last centuries, the sixteenth, the seventeenth, and the eighteenth, may be conceived as an immense battle of three days’ duration. We willingly adopt this beautiful comparison, but not the part that is assigned to each of the days. The same struggle has been ascribed to the sixteenth and to the eighteenth century. On the first day, as on the last, it is philosophy that breaks the ranks. The sixteenth century philosophical!......Strange error! No: each of these days has its marked and distinct character. On the first day of the conflict, it was the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ, that triumphed; and then Rome was defeated, as well as human philosophy, in the person of Erasmus and her other representatives. On the second day, we grant that Rome, her authority, her discipline, her doctrine, reappeared and were about to triumph by the intrigues of a celebrated society and the power of the scaffold, aided by men of noble character and sublime genius. On the third day, human philosophy arose in all its pride, and finding on the field of battle, not the Gospel, but Rome, made short work, and soon carried every intrenchment.
The first day was the battle of God, the second the battle of the priest, the third the battle of reason. What will be the fourth?......In our opinion, the confused strife, the deadly contest of all these powers together, to end in the victory of Him to whom triumph belongs.
CHAPTER -The Three Adversaries — Source of Truth — Grebel — The Fanatics and Zwingle — Constitution of the Church — Prison — The Prophet Blaurock — Fanaticism at Saint Gall — Schucker and Family — Discussion at Zurich — The Limits of the Reformation — Punishment of the Fanatics.
But the battle fought by the Reformation in the great day of the sixteenth century, under the standard of the Word of God, was not one and single, but manifold. The Reformation had many enemies to contend with at once; and after having first protested against the decretals and the supremacy of the pope, and then against the cold apophthegms of the rationalists, philosophers, or schoolmen, it had equally to struggle with the reveries of enthusiasm and the hallucinations of mysticism; opposing alike to these three powers the shield and the sword of Divine revelation.
It must be admitted that there is a great similarity, a striking unity, between these three powerful adversaries. The false systems that in every age have been the most opposed to evangelical Christianity, have always been distinguished by their making religious knowledge proceed from within the man himself. Rationalism makes it proceed from reason; mysticism from certain inner lights; and Romanism from an illumination of the pope. These three errors look for truth in man: evangelical Christianity looks for it wholly in God; and while mysticism, rationalism, and Romanism, admit a permanent inspiration in certain of our fellow-men, and thus open a door to every extravagance and diversity, evangelical Christianity recognizes this inspiration solely in the writings of the apostles and prophets, and alone presents that great, beautiful, and living unity which is ever the same in all ages.
The task of the Reformation has been to re-establish the rights of the Word of God, in opposition not only to Romanism, but also to mysticism and rationalism.
The fanaticism, which had been extinguished in Germany by Luther’s return to Wittenberg, reappeared in full vigor in Switzerland, and threatened the edifice that Zwingle, Haller, and Oecolampadius had built on the Word of God. Thomas Munzer, having been forced to quit Saxony in 1521, had reached the frontiers of Switzerland. Conrad Grebel, whose restless and ardent disposition we have already noticed, had become connected with him, as had also Felix Manz, a canon’s son, and several other Zurichers; and Grebel had immediately endeavored to gain over Zwingle. In vain had the latter gone farther than Luther; he saw a party springing up which desired to proceed farther still. “Let us form a community to true believers,” said Grebel to him; “for to them alone the promise belongs, and let us found a church in which there shall be no sin.” — “We cannot make a heaven upon earth,” replied Zwingle; “and Christ has taught us that we must let the tares grow up along with the wheat.” f2186 Grebel having failed with the reformer, would have desired to appeal to the people. “The whole community of Zurich,” said he, “ought to have the final decision in matters of faith.” But Zwingle feared the influence these radical enthusiasts might exercise over a large assembly. He thought that, except on extraordinary occasions when the people might be called upon to express their accordance, it was better to confide the interests of religion to a college, which might be considered the chosen representatives of the Church. Accordingly the Council of Two Hundred, which exercised the supreme political authority in Zurich, was also intrusted with the ecclesiastical power, on the express condition that they should conform in all things to the Holy Scriptures. No doubt it would have been better to have thoroughly organized the Church, and called on it to appoint its own representatives, who should be intrusted solely with the religious interests of the people; for a man may be very capable of administering the interests of the State, and yet very unskillful in those of the Church; just as the reverse of this is true also. Nevertheless the inconvenience was not then so serious as it would have been in these days, since the members of the Great Council had frankly entered into the religious movement. But, however this may be, Zwingle, while appealing to the Church, was careful not to make it too prominent, and preferred the representative system to the actual sovereignty of the people. This is what, after three centuries, the states of Europe have been doing in the political world for the last fifty years.
Being rejected by Zwingle, Grebel turned to another quarter. Rubli, formerly pastor at Basle, Brodtlein, pastor at Zollikon, and Louis Herzer, received him with eagerness. They resolved to form an independent congregation in the midst of the great congregation, a Church within the Church. The baptism of adult believers only, was to be their means of assembling their congregation. “Infant baptism,” said they, “is a horrible abomination, a flagrant impiety, invented by the wicked spirit, and by Nicholas II, pope of Rome.” f2187 The council of Zurich was alarmed, and ordered a public discussion to be held; and as they still refused to abjure their opinions, some of the Zurichers among their number were thrown into prison, and several foreigners were banished. But persecution only inflamed their zeal: “Not by words alone,” cried they, “but with our blood, we are ready to bear testimony to the truth of our cause.” Some of them, girding themselves with cords or ozier twigs, ran through the streets, exclaiming: “Yet a few days, and Zurich will be destroyed! Woe to thee, Zurich! Woe! woe!” f2188 The simple-minded and pious were agitated and alarmed. Fourteen men, among whom was Felix Mantz, and seven women, were apprehended, in despite of Zwingle’s intercession, and put on bread and water in the heretic’s tower. After being confined a fortnight, they managed to loosen some planks in the night, and aiding one another, effected their escape. “An angel,” said they, “had opened the prison and led them forth.” f2189 A monk, who had escaped from his convent, George Jacob of Coire, surnamed Blaurock, as it would seem, from the blue dress he constantly wore, joined their sect, and from his eloquence was denominated a second Paul. This daring monk traveled from place to place, constraining many, by his imposing fervor, to receive his baptism. One Sunday, when at Zollikon, the impetuous monk interrupted the deacon as he was preaching, calling out in a voice of thunder: “It is written, My house is a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Then raising the staff he carried in his hand, he struck four violent blows. “I am a door,” exclaimed he; “whosoever entereth by me shall find pasture. I am a good shepherd. My body I give to the prison; my life I give to the sword, the stake, or the wheel. I am the beginning of the baptism and of the bread of the Lord.” f2190 While Zwingle was opposing this torrent in Zurich, Saint Gall was soon inundated with it. Grebel arrived there, and was received by the brethren with acclamations; and on Palm Sunday he proceeded to the banks of the Sitter with a great number of his adherents, whom he there baptized.
The news quickly spread through the adjoining cantons, and a great crowd flocked from Zurich, Appenzel, and several other places to the “Little Jerusalem.”
Zwingle’s heart was wrung at the sight of this agitation. He saw a storm bursting on these districts where the seed of the Gospel was just beginning to spring up. Resolving to oppose these sentiments on baptism, f2192 he wrote a treatise on that subject, which the council of St. Gall, to whom it was addressed, ordered to be read in the church before all the people. “My dear brethren in the Lord,” said Zwingle, “the water of the torrents that issue from our rocks carries with it everything within its reach. At first it is only small stones; but these dash violently against larger ones, until at last the torrent becomes so strong that it carries away all it meets, and leaves in its track wailing and vain regrets, and fertile meadows changed into a wilderness. The spirit of strife and self-righteousness acts in a similar manner: it excites discord, destroys charity, and where it found beautiful and flourishing churches, leaves behind it nothing but flocks plunged into mourning and desolation.”
Thus spoke Zwingle, the child of the Tockenburg mountains. “Give us the Word of God,” exclaimed one who was present in the church; “and not the word of Zwingle.” Immediately confused voices were heart: “Away with the book! away with the book!” shouted the multitude. After this they rose and quitted the church, crying out: “You may keep the doctrine of Zwingle; as for us, we will keep the Word of God.” f2193 The fanaticism now broke forth into the most lamentable disorders.
Maintaining that the Lord had exhorted us to become like children, these unhappy creatures began to clap their hands, and skip about in the streets, to dance in a ring, sit on the ground, and tumble each other about in the dust. Some burnt the New Testament, saying, “The letter killeth, the Spirit giveth life.” Others, falling into convulsions, pretended to have revelations from the Holy Ghost.
In a solitary house on the Mullegg near St. Gaul, lived an aged farmer, John Schucker, with his five sons. They had all of them, including the domestics, received the new religion; and two of the sons, Thomas and Leonard, were distinguished for their fanaticism. On Shrove Tuesday (7th February 1526), they invited a large party to their house, and their father killed a calf for the feast. The viands, the wine, and this numerous assembly, heated their imaginations; the whole night was passed in fanatical conversation and gesticulations, convulsions, visions, and revelations. f2194 In the morning, Thomas, still agitated by this night of disorder, and having, as it would seem, lost his reason, took the calf’s bladder, and placing in it part of the gall, intending thus to imitate the symbolical language of the prophets, approached his brother Leonard, saying with a gloomy voice: “Thus bitter is the death thou art to suffer!” He then added: “Brother, Leonard, kneel down!” Leonard fell on his knees; shortly after, “Brother Leonard, arise!” Leonard stood up. The father, brothers, and others of the company looked on with astonishment, asking themselves what God would do. Thomas soon resumed: “Leonard, kneel down again!” He did so.
The spectators, alarmed at the gloomy countenance of the wretched man, said to him: “Think of what you are about, and take care that no mischief happens.” — “Fear not,” replied Thomas, “nothing will happen but the will of the Father.” At the same time he hastily caught up a sword, and striking a violent blow at his brother, kneeling before him as a criminal before the executioner, he cut off his head, exclaiming: “Now the will of the Father is accomplished.” All the bystanders recoiled with horror at the deed; and the farm resounded with groans and lamentations. Thomas, who had nothing on but a shirt and trousers, rushed barefooted and bare headed out of the house, ran to St. Gall with frenzied gestures, entered the house of the burgomaster Joachim Vadian, and said to him with haggard looks and wild cries: “I proclaim to thee the day of the Lord!” The frightful news soon spread through St. Gall. “He has slain his brother, as Cain slew Abel,” said the people. The culprit was seized. “It is true I did it,” he continually repeated; “but it is God who did it through me.” On the 16th of February, this unhappy creature lost his head by the sword of the executioner. Fanaticism had made its last effort. Men’s eyes were opened, and, according to an old historian, the same blow took off the head of Thomas Schucker and of fanaticism of St. Gall.
It still prevailed at Zurich. On the 6th of November in the preceding year, a public discussion on the subject of infant baptism had been held in the council hall, when Zwingle and his friends proposed the following theses: — “Children born of believing parents are children of God, like those who were born under the Old Testament, and consequently may receive baptism. “Baptism under the New Testament is what circumcision was under the Old; consequently, baptism ought now to be administered to children, as circumcision was formerly. “We cannot prove the custom of re-baptizing either by examples, texts, or arguments drawn from Scripture; and those who are rebaptized crucify Jesus Christ afresh.”
But the dispute was not confined to religious questions; they called for the abolition of tithes, on the ground that they were not of Divine appointment. Zwingle replied, that the maintenance of the schools and churches depended on the tithes. He desired a complete religious reform; but was decided not to permit the public order or political institutions to be in the least degree shaken. This was the limit at which he perceived that word from heaven, written by the hand of God, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.” It was necessary to stop somewhere, and here Zwingle and the reformers halted, in spite of those headstrong men who endeavored to hurry them farther still.
But if the reformers halted, they could not stop the enthusiasts, who seemed placed at their sides as if in contrast with their discretion and prudence. It was not enough for them to have formed a church; this church in their eyes was the state. When they were summoned before the tribunals, they declared they did not recognize the civil authority, that it was only a remnant of paganism, and that they would obey no other power than God. They taught that it was not lawful for Christians to fill public offices, or to carry the sword; and resembling in this respect certain irreligious enthusiasts that have sprung up in our days, they looked upon a community of goods as the perfection of humanity. f2197 Thus the danger was increasing; the existence of civil society was threatened. It rose up to reject from its bosom these destructive elements.
The government, in alarm, suffered itself to be hurried into strange measures. Being resolved to make an example, it condemned Mantz to be drowned. On the 5th of January 1527, he was placed in a boat; his mother (the aged concubine of the canon) and his brother were among the crowd that followed him to the water’s edge. “Persevere unto the end,” exclaimed they. When the executioner prepared to throw Mantz into the lake, his brother burst into tears; but his mother, calm and resolute, witnessed with dry and burning eyes the martyrdom of her son. f2198 On the same day Blaurock was scourged with rods. As they were leading him outside of the city, he shook his blue cloak and the dust from off his feet against the city of Zurich. It would appear that two years later this unhappy creature was burnt alive by the Roman-catholics of the Tyrol.
Undoubtedly a spirit of rebellion existed; no doubt the old ecclesiastical law, condemning heretics to death, was still in force, and the Reformation could not in one or two years reform every error; and further, there is no question that the Romish states would have accused the Protestant states of encouraging disorder if they had not punished these enthusiasts; but these considerations may explain, although they cannot justify, the severity of the magistrates. They might have taken measures against everything that infringed the civil authority; but religious errors, being combated by the teachers, should have enjoyed complete liberty before the civil tribunals. Such opinions are not to be expelled be the scourge; they are not drowned by throwing their professors into the water; they float up again from the depth of the abyss; and fire but serves to kindle in their adherents a fiercer enthusiasm and thirst for martyrdom. Zwingle, with whose sentiments on this subject we are acquainted, took no part in these severities. f2200 CHAPTER -Progression and Immobility — Zwingle and Luther — Luther’s Return to Scholasticism — Respect for Tradition — Occam — Contrary Tendency in Zwingle — Beginning of the Controversy — Oecolampadius and the Swabian Syngramma — Strasburg mediates.
It was not, however, on baptism alone that diversities were to prevail; more serious differences were to arise on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.
The human mind, freed from the yoke that had pressed upon it for so many ages, made use of its liberty; and if Roman-catholicism has to fear the shoals of despotism, Protestantism is equally exposed to those of anarchy. Progression is the character of Protestantism, as immobility is that of Romanism.
Roman-catholicism, which possesses in the papacy a means of continually establishing new doctrines, appears at first sight, indeed, to contain a principle eminently favorable to variations. It has in truth largely availed itself of it, and from age to age we see Rome bringing forward or ratifying new doctrines. But its system once complete, Roman-catholicism has declared itself the champion of immobility. In this its safety lies; it resembles those buildings which tremble at the least motion, and from which nothing can be taken without bringing them wholly to the ground.
It is not thus with evangelical Christianity. Its principle is much less favorable to variations, and much more so to progression and to life. In fact, on the one hand it recognizes Scripture only as the source of truth, one and always the same, from the beginning of the Church to the end: how then should it vary as Popery has done? But, on the other hand, each Christian is to go and draw for himself from this fountain; and hence proceed action and liberty. Accordingly, evangelical Christianity, while it is the same in the nineteenth as in the sixteenth century, and as in the first, is in every age full of spontaneity and motion, and is now filling the world with its researches, its labors, bibles, missionaries, light, salvation, and life.
It is a great error to classify together and almost to confound evangelical Christianity with mysticism and rationalism, and to impute their irregularities to it. Motion is in the very nature of Christian Protestantism; it is directly opposed to immobility and lethargy; but it is the motion of health and life that characterizes it, and not the aberrations of man deprived of reason, or the convulsions of disease. We shall see this characteristic manifested in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.
Such a result might have been expected. This doctrine had been understood in very different manners in the former ages of the Church, and this diversity existed until the time when the doctrine of transubstantiation and the scholastic theology began simultaneously to rule over the middle ages.
But when this dominion was shaken, the old diversities were destined to reappear.
Zwingle and Luther, who had each been developed separately, the one in Switzerland and the other in Saxony, were however one day to meet face to face. The same spirit, and in many respects the same character, animated both. Both alike were filled with love for the truth and hatred of injustice; both were naturally violent; and this violence was moderated in each by a sincere piety. But there was one feature in Zwingle’s character destined to carry him farther than Luther. It was not only as a man that he loved liberty, but also as a republican and fellow-countryman of Tell.
Accustomed to the decision of a free state, he did not permit himself to be stopped by those considerations before which Luther recoiled. He had moreover studied less profoundly the scholastic theology, and thus found his motions less fettered. Both were ardently attached to their own convictions; both resolved to defend them; and, little habituated to yield to the convictions of another, they were now to meet, like two proud warhorses, which, rushing through the contending ranks, suddenly encounter each other in the hottest of the strife.
A practical tendency predominated in the character of Zwingle and in the Reformation of which he was the author, and this tendency was directed to two great objects, simplicity of worship and sanctification of life. To harmonize the worship with the necessities of the mind, that seeks not external pomp but invisible things — this was Zwingle’s first aim. The idea of the corporeal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, the origin of so many ceremonies and superstitions of the Church, must therefore be abolished. But another desire of the Swiss reformer led to the same results.
He found that the Roman doctrine of the eucharist, and even that of Luther, presupposed a certain magical influence prejudicial to sanctification; he feared lest Christians, imagining they received Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread, should henceforward less earnestly seek to be united to him by faith in the heart. “Faith,” said he, “is not knowledge, opinion, imagination; it is a reality. It leads to a real union with Divine things.” Thus, whatever Zwingle’s adversaries may have asserted, it was not a leaning to rationalism, but a profoundly religious view, that led him to his peculiar doctrines.
But there was another element in Zwingle’s convictions: he was subject to those historical influences which we must everywhere recognize in the annals of the Church as in that of the world. It has been long supposed that he was acquainted with the sentiments of Ratram, Wickliffe, and Peter Waldo; but we possess a much safer historical clue to the convictions of the Swiss reformer.
The two Netherlanders, Rhodius and Sagarus, whom we have seen arrive at Wittenberg, and there occasion the first difference between Luther and Carlstadt, had turned their steps towards Switzerland, carrying with them Wessel’s manuscripts, and reached Basle, where Luther himself had commended them to Oecolampadius. The latter person, who was of timid character, finding that Luther did not approve of the opinions which these brethren from Holland were endeavoring to propagate, did not venture to declare his sentiments, and sent them to Zwingle. They arrived at Zurich in 1521, and having waited on the reformer, immediately turned the conversation on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. f2202 Rhodius and his friend did not at first make known their opinions, but after listening to Zwingle, they gave thanks to God for having delivered them from so great an error. They then presented the letter from Cornelius Hoen, which Zwingle read, and published shortly after.
This letter had an incalculable influence on the destinies of the Reformation. Hoen, resting his arguments on Christ’s words in the sixth chapter of Saint John, said: “Christ gives himself to us by means of the bread: but let us distinguish between the bread we receive by the mouth, and Christ whom we receive by faith. Whoever thinks that he receives only what he takes into his mouth, does not discern the body of the Lord, and eats and drinks his own condemnation because by eating and drinking he bears testimony to the presence of Christ, whilst by his unbelief he remains far from Him.” — At the same time the Netherlanders laid Wessel’s theses before Zwingle. These writings made a deep impression on the reformer’s mind.
The result of Zwingle’s inquiries corresponded with his tendencies. By studying Scripture as a whole, which was his custom, and not in detached passages, and by having recourse to classical antiquity for the solution of the difficulties of language, he arrived at the conviction that the word is, employed in the formula of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, ought to be taken (as Hoen said) in the meaning of signifies, and as early as 1523 he wrote to his friend Wittembach that the bread and wine are in the Eucharist what the water is in baptism. “It would be in vain,” added he, “for us to plunge a man a thousand times in water, if he does not believe. Faith is the one thing needful.” f2206 It would appear, besides, that Zwingle had been prepared, f2207 indirectly at least, for these views by Erasmus. Melancthon says: “Zwingle confessed to me (at Marburg) that it was originally from the writings of Erasmus that he had derived his opinions on the Lord’s Supper.” In fact Erasmus wrote in 1526: “The sentiments of Oecolampadius would not displease me if the testimony of the Church were not against them. I do not see what an insensible body can do, or what utility would be derived from it, even if we could feel it; it is enough that spiritual grace be found in the symbols.” f2208 Luther at first set out, in appearance at least, from principles very similar to those of the Zurich doctor. It is not the sacrament that sanctifieth,” said he, “but faith in the sacrament.” But the extravagances of those whose mysticism spiritualized everything, led to a great change in his views.
When he saw enthusiasts who pretended to a particular inspiration, breaking images, rejecting baptism, and denying the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, he was alarmed; he had a sort of prophetic presentiment of the dangers that would threaten the Church if this ultraspiritual tendency should get the upperhand, and he accordingly threw himself into the very opposite course; like a pilot who, seeing his boat lean too much on one side and near foundering, throws himself on the other to restore the equilibrium.
From that time Luther attached a higher importance to the sacraments. He maintained that they were not only signs, by means of which Christians were outwardly distinguished, as Zwingle said, but testimonials of the Divine will, calculated to strengthen our faith. More than this, Christ, in his view, had determined to give believers a full assurance of their salvation, and in order to seal this promise in the most effectual manner, he had added his real body to the bread and wine. “Just as iron and fire,” continued he, “which are nevertheless two distinct substances, are confounded together in a heated mass of iron so that in each of its parts there is at once iron and fire; in like manner, and with much greater reason, the glorified body of Christ is found in all the parts of the bread.”
Thus at this period there seems to have been some return on the part of Luther towards the scholastic theology. In his doctrine of justification by faith he had entirely renounced it; but in that of the sacrament he abandoned one point only, transubstantiation, and preserved the other, the corporeal presence. He even went so far as to say, that he would rather receive the blood only with the pope, than the wine only with Zwingle.
Luther’s great principle was never to depart from the doctrine and customs of the Church, except when the language of Scripture rendered it absolutely necessary. “Where has Christ commanded us to elevate the host and exhibit it to the people?” Carlstadt had demanded. — “And where has Christ forbidden it?” was Luther’s reply. In this answer lies the principle of the two Reformations. Ecclesiastical traditions were dear to the Saxon reformer. If he separated from them on several points, it was not until after terrible struggles, and because, above all, it was necessary to obey the Scriptures. But when the letter of the Word of God appeared in harmony with the tradition and usages of the Church, he adhered to it with immovable firmness. Now this was what happened in the question of the eucharist. He did not deny that the word is might be taken in the sense indicated by Zwingle. He acknowledged, for instance, that in the words, That rock was Christ, it must be so understood; but he denied that this word must have the same meaning in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
He found in one of the later schoolmen, Occam, whom he preferred to all others, an opinion which he embraced. Like Occam, he gave up the continually repeated miracle, by virtue of which, according to the Roman Church, the body and blood of Christ took the place of the bread and wine after every consecration by the priest; and with this doctor, he substituted a universal miracle, worked once for all, — that of the ubiquity and omnipresence of the body of Jesus Christ. “Christ,” said he, “is present in the bread and wine, because he is present everywhere, and above all, wherever he wills to be.” f2211 The turn of Zwingle’s mind was very different from Luther’s. He was less inclined to preserve a certain union with the universal Church and to maintain his connection with the traditions of past ages. As a theologian, he looked at Scripture alone, and thence only would he receive his faith freely and immediately, without troubling himself about what others had thought before him. As a republican, he looked to his commune of Zurich.
It was the idea of the present Church that engrossed his thoughts, and not that of the Church of former times. He clung particularly to these words of St. Paul: For we being many are one bread, and one body; and he saw in the Lord’s Supper the sign of a spiritual communion between Christ and all Christians. “Whoever acts unworthily,” said he, “is guilty towards the body of Christ of which he is a member.” This thought had a great practical influence over men’s minds; and the effects it produced in the lives of many confirmed Zwingle in it.
Thus Luther and Zwingle had insensibly separated from each other. It is probable however that peace might have subsisted longer between them, if the turbulent Carlstadt, who kept passing to and fro between Switzerland and Germany, had not inflamed these contrary opinions.
A step taken with the view to maintain peace led to the explosion. The council of Zurich, desirous of preventing all controversy, forbade the sale of Carlstadt’s works. Zwingle, who disapproved of his violence, and blamed his mystical and obscure expressions, thought himself now called upon to defend his doctrine, both in the pulpit and before the council; and shortly after wrote a letter to Albert, pastor of Reutlingen, in which he said: “Whether or not Christ speaks of the sacrament in the sixth chapter of St. John, it is very evident that he there inculcates a manner of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, in which there is nothing corporeal.” He then proceeded to prove that the Lord’s Supper, by reminding the faithful, according to Christ’s intention, of his body which was broken for them, procured for them that spiritual eating which alone is truly salutary.
Yet Zwingle shrunk from a rupture with Luther; he trembled at the thought that these unhappy disputes might tear in pieces that new society which was then forming in the midst of fallen Christendom. But it was not so with Luther. He did not hesitate to class Zwingle with those enthusiasts against whom he had already broken so many lances. He did not reflect that if the images had been taken down at Zurich, it was done legally and by order of the public authority. Accustomed to the forms of the German principalities, he knew but little of the proceedings of the Swiss republics; and he inveighed against the grave divines of Helvetia, as he had done against the Munzers and Carlstadts.
Luther having published his Treatise against the Celestial Prophets, Zwingle no longer hesitated, and at nearly the same time he gave to the world his Letter to Albert, and his Commentary on True and False Religion, dedicated to Francis I. In this last he said: “Since Christ, in the sixth chapter of St. John, ascribes to faith the power of imparting eternal life, and of uniting the believer to Him in the closest union, what need have we of more? Why should He afterwards have ascribed this virtue to His flesh, whilst He himself declares that His flesh profiteth nothing? The flesh of Christ, so far as it suffered death for us, is of incalculable utility, for it saves us from perdition; so far as it is eaten by us, it is of no use whatever.”
The struggle began. Pomeranus, Luther’s friend, rushed into the conflict, and attacked the evangelist of Zurich somewhat too contemptuously.
He took courage, and wrote from Basle to Zwingle: “The dogma of the real presence is the fortress and safeguard of their impiety. So long as they preserve this idol, no one can conquer them.” He then entered into the lists, by publishing a book on the meaning of our Lord’s words: This is my body. f2214 The mere fact that Oecolampadius had joined the reformer of Zurich excited an immense sensation, not only in Basle but in all Germany. Luther was deeply affected by it. Brenz, Schnepff, and twelve other pastors of Swabia, to whom Oecolampadius had dedicated his book, and most of whom had been his pupils, experienced the keenest sorrow. “At this very moment when I am separating from him in a just cause,” said Brenz, taking up the pen to reply to him, “I honor and admire him as much as it is possible for a man to do. The bonds of love are not broken between us because we are not of one opinion.” He then published, conjointly with his friends, the famous Swabian Syngramma, in which he replied to Oecolampadius with firmness but with charity and respect. “If an emperor,” said the authors, “give a wand to a judge, saying: ‘Take; this is the power of judging;’ the wand no doubt is a mere sign; but the words being added, the judge has not only the symbol but the power itself.” The true members of the reformed churches may admit this illustration. The Syngramma was received with acclamations; its authors were looked upon as the champions of truth; many theologians, and even laymen, desirous of sharing in their glory, began to defend the doctrine attacked, and fell upon Oecolampadius.
Strasburg then came forward to mediate between Switzerland and Germany. Capito and Bucer were the friends of peace, and question in debate was, in their opinion, of secondary consequence; they therefore placed themselves between the two parties, sent one of their colleagues, George Cassel, to Luther, and conjured him to beware of snapping the ties of fraternity which united him with the Swiss divines.
Nowhere did Luther’s character shine forth more strikingly than in this controversy on the Lord’s Supper. Never were more clearly displayed that firmness with which he clung to a conviction which he believed to be christian, his faithfulness in seeking for no other foundation than Scripture, the sagacity of his defense, his animated eloquence, and often overwhelming powers of argumentation. But never also were more clearly shown the obstinacy with which he adhered to his own opinions, the little attention he paid to the reasons of his opponents, and the uncharitable haste with which he ascribed their errors to the wickedness of their hearts, or to the wiles of the devil. “One or other of us,” said he to the Strasburg mediator, “must be ministers of Satan — the Swiss or ourselves.”
This was what Capito styled “the frenzies of the Saxon Orestes;” and these frenzies were followed by exhaustion. Luther’s health was affected by them; one day he fainted in the arms of his wife and friends; he was a whole week as if in “death and hell.” — “He had lost Jesus Christ,” he said, “and was tossed to and fro by the tempests of despair. The world was passing away, and announcing by prodigies that the last day was at hand.”
But the divisions among the friends of the Reformation were destined to have still more fatal consequences. The Romish theologians exulted, particularly in Switzerland, at being able to oppose Luther to Zwingle.
And yet if, after three centuries, the recollection of these divisions should convey to evangelical Christians the precious fruits of unity in diversity, and of charity in liberty, they will not have been in vain. Even then, the reformers, by opposing one another, showed that they were not governed by a blind hatred against Rome, and that truth was the primary object of their inquiries. Herein we must acknowledge there is something generous; and conduct so disinterested did not fail to bear fruit, and to extort, even from enemies, a feeling of interest and esteem.
Luther, notwithstanding his opposition to the Papacy, was in an eminent degree conservative. Zwingle, on the contrary, was inclined to a radical reform. These two opposite tendencies were necessary. If Luther and his friends had stood alone at the time of the Reformation, the work would have been stopped too soon, and the reforming principle would not have accomplished its prescribed task. If, on the contrary, there had been only Zwingle, the thread would have been snapped too abruptly, and the Reformation would have been isolated from the ages that had gone before.
These two tendencies, which to a superficial observer might seem to have existed only to combat each other, were ordained to complete each other; and after a lapse of three centuries we can say that they have fulfilled their mission.
CHAPTER -The Tockenburg — An Assembly of the People — Reformation — The Grisons — Disputation at Ilantz — Results — Reformation at Zurich.
Thus the Reformation had struggles to maintain in every quarter, and after having contended with the rationalist philosophy of Erasmus, and the fanaticism of some of the anabaptists, it had still to endure an intestine war. But its great conflict was always with popery; and the attack begun in the cities of the plain was now carried on among the most distant mountains.
The mountains of the Tockenburg had heard the sound of the Gospel, and three ecclesiastics were there persecuted by order of the bishop, as inclining to heresy. “Convince us by the Word of God,” said Militus, Doring, and Farer, “and we will submit not only to the chapter, but even to the least of our brethren in Christ; otherwise we will obey no one, not even the mightiest among men.” f2216 This was truly the spirit of Zwingle and of the Reformation. A circumstance occurred shortly after that inflamed the minds of the inhabitants of these lofty valleys. A meeting of the people took place on Saint Catherine’s day; the citizens were assembled, and two men of Schwytz, having come to the Tockenburg on business, were seated at one of the tables; they entered into conversation. “Ulrich Zwingle,” said one of them, “is a heretic and a robber!” Steiger, the secretary of state, undertook Zwingle’s defense. Their noise attracted the attention of the whole meeting. George Bruggmann, Zwingle’s uncle, who was at an adjoining table, spring angrily from his seat, exclaiming: “Surely they are speaking of Master Ulrich!” All the guests rose and followed him, fearing a brawl. f2217 As the tumult kept increasing, the bailiff hastily assembled the council in the street, and prayed Bruggmann, for the sake of peace, to be content with saying to these men: “If you do not retract your words, it is you who are guilty of lying and thieving.” — “Recollect what you have just said,” replied the men of Schwytz; “be sure we shall remember them.” They then mounted their horses, and galloped off on the road to Schwytz. f2218 The government of Schwytz then addressed a threatening letter to the inhabitants of the Tockenburg, which spread dismay among them. “Be bold and fearless,” wrote Zwingle to the council of his native place. “Be not concerned at the lies they utter against me! Any brawler can call me a heretic; but do you refrain from insults, disorders, debauchery, and mercenary wars; relieve the poor, protect those who are oppressed, and whatever abuse may be heaped upon you, preserve an unshaken confidence in Almighty God.” f2220 Zwingle’s exhortations produced the desired effect. The council still hesitated, but the people, meeting in their respective parishes, unanimously decreed that the mass should be abolished, and that they would be faithful to the Word of God. f2221 The conquests were not less important in Rhaetia, which Salandronius had been compelled to leave, but where Commander was boldly proclaiming the Gospel. The enthusiasts, indeed, by preaching their fanatical doctrines in the Grisons, had at first done great mischief to the Reformation. The people were divided into three parties. Some had embraced the views of these new prophets, others, amazed and confounded, regarded this schism with anxiety; and lastly, the partisans of Rome were loud in their exultation. f2222 A meeting was held at Ilantz, in the gray league, for a public disputation; the supporters of the papacy, on the one hand, the friends of the Reformation on the other, collected their forces. The bishop’s vicar at first sought how to evade the combat. “These disputes lead to great expense,” said he; “I am ready to lay down ten thousand florins in order to meet them; but I require the opposite party to do as much.” — “If the bishop has ten thousand florins at his disposal,” exclaimed the rough voice of a peasant in the crowd, “it is from us he has wrung them; to give as much more to these poor priests would be too bad.” — “We are poor people with empty purses,” said Comander, pastor of Coire; “we have hardly the means of buying food: where then can we find ten thousand florins?” f2223 Every one laughed at this expedient, and the business proceeded.
Among the spectators were Sebastian Hofmeister and James Amman of Zurich; they held in their hands the Holy Bible in Greek and Hebrew. The bishop’s vicar desired that all strangers should be excluded. Hofmeister understood this to be directed against him. “We have come provided with a Greek and Hebrew Bible,” said he, “in order that no violence may be done in any manner to Scripture. Yet sooner than prevent the conference, we are willing to withdraw.” — “Ah!” exclaimed the priest of Dintzen, looking at the books of the Zurichers, “if the Greek and Hebrew languages had never entered our country, there would have been fewer heresies!” f2224 — “St.
Jerome,” said another, “has translated the Bible for us; we do not want the books of the Jews!” — “If the Zurichers are turned out,” said the banneret of Ilantz, “the commune will interfere.” — “Well then,” replied others, “let them listen, but be silent.” The Zurichers remained accordingly, and their Bible with them.
After this Comander stood up and read the first of the theses he had published; it ran thus: “The christian Church is born of the Word of God; it must abide by this Word, and listen to no other voice.” He then proved what he had advanced by numerous passages from Scripture. “He trod with a firm step,” said an eye-witness, “each time setting down his foot with the firmness of an ox.” — “There is too much of this,” said the vicar. — “When he is at table with his friends listening to the pipers,” said Hofmeister, “he does not find it too long.” f2226 Then a man arose and advanced from the midst of the crowd, tossing his arms, knitting his brows, blinking his eyes, and who appeared to have lost his senses; he rushed towards the reformer, and many thought he was about to strike him. He was a schoolmaster of Coire. “I have committed several questions to writing,” said he to Comander;” answer them instantly.” — “I am here,” said the reformer of the Grisons, “to defend my doctrine: attack it, and I will defend it; or else return to your place. I will answer you when I have done.” The schoolmaster remained a moment in suspense. “Very well,” said he at last, and returned to his seat.
It was proposed to pass on to the doctrine of the sacraments. The Abbot of St. Luke’s declared that he could not approach such a subject without awe, and the horrified curate in alarm made the sign of the cross.
The schoolmaster of Coire, who had already made one attempt to attack Comander, began with much volubility to argue in favor of the doctrine of the sacrament according to the text, “This is my body.” — “My dear Berre,” said Comander, “how do you understand these words, John is Elias?” — “I understand,” replied Berre, who saw what Comander was aiming at, “that he was really and essentially Elias.” — “Why then,” continued Comander, “did John the Baptist himself say to the Pharisees that he was not Elias?” The schoolmaster was silent: at last he replied, “It is true.” Everybody began to laugh, even those who had urged him to speak.
The Abbot of St. Luke’s made a long speech on the eucharist, which closed the conference. Seven priests embraced the evangelical doctrine; complete religious liberty was proclaimed, and the Romish worship was abolished in several churches. “Christ,” to use the language of Salandronius, “grew up everywhere in these mountains, as the tender grass of spring; and the pastors were like living fountains, watering these lofty valleys.” f2228 The Reform made still more rapid strides at Zurich. The Dominicans, the Augustines, the Capuchins, so long at enmity, were reduced to the necessity of living together; a foretaste of hell for these poor monks. In the place of these corrupted institutions were founded schools, an hospital, a theological college: learning and charity everywhere supplanted indolence and selfishness.
CHAPTER -The Oligarchs — Bernese Mandate of 1526 in Favor of the Papacy — Discussion at Baden — Regulations of the Discussion — Riches and Poverty — Eck and Oecolampadius — Discussion — Zwingle’s Share in the Discussion — Vaunts of the Romanists — Abusive Language of a Monk — Close of the Disputation.
These victories of the Reformation could not remain unnoticed. Monks, priests, and prelates, in distraction, felt that the ground was everywhere slipping from beneath their feet, and that the Romish Church was on the point of sinking under unprecedented dangers. The oligarchs of the Cantons, the advocates of foreign pensions and capitulations, saw that they could delay no longer, if they wished to preserve their privileges; and at the very moment when the Church was frightened and beginning to sink, they stretched out their mailed hands to save it. A Stein and a John Hug of Lucerne united with a John Faber; and the civil authority rushed to the support of that hierarchical power which openeth its mouth to blaspheme and maketh war upon the saints. f2229 Their first efforts were directed against Berne. The seven Roman-catholic cantons, in collusion with the Bernese oligarchs, sent a deputation to that city, who laid their complaints before the council on Whitmonday 1526. “All order is destroyed in the Church,” said the schulthess (chief magistrate) of Lucerne, “God is blasphemed, the sacraments, the mother of God, and the saints are despised, and imminent and terrible calamities threaten to dissolve our praiseworthy confederation.” At the same time the Bernese partisans of Rome, in harmony with the Forest cantons, had summoned to Berne the deputies of the country, chosen from those who were devoted to the papacy. Some of them had the courage to pronounce in favor of the Gospel. The sitting was stormy. “Berne must renounce the evangelical faith and walk with us,” said the Forest cantons. The Bernese councils decreed that they would maintain “the ancient christian faith, the holy sacraments, the mother of God, the saints, and the ornaments of the churches.” Thus Rome triumphed, and the mandate of 1526 was about to annul that of 1523. In effect, all the married priests not born in the canton were compelled to leave it; they drove from their borders all who were suspected of Lutheranism; they exercised a vigilant censorship over every work sold by the booksellers, and certain books were publicly burnt.
Even John Faber, with audacious falsehood, said publicly that Haller had bound himself before the council to perform mass again, and to preach the doctrine of Rome. It was resolved to take advantage of so favorable an opportunity to crush the new faith.
For a long while public opinion had been demanding a discussion; this was the only means left of quieting the people. “Convince us by the Holy Scriptures,” said the council of Zurich to the diet, “and we will comply with your wishes.” — “The Zurichers,” it was everywhere said, “have made you a promise; if you can convince them by the Bible, why not do so? if you cannot, why do you not conform to the Bible?”
The conferences held at Zurich had exercised an immense influence, and it was felt necessary to oppose them by a conference held in a Romish city, with all necessary precautions to secure the victory to the pope’s party.
True, these discussions had been pronounced unlawful, but means were found to evade this difficulty. “It is only intended,” said they, “to check and condemn the pestilent doctrines of Zwingle.” This being settled, they looked about for a vigorous champion, and Doctor Eck offered himself. He feared nothing. “Zwingle no doubt has milked more cows than he has read books,” said he, by Hofmeister’s account. f2233 The Great Council of Zurich sent Dr. Eck a safe-conduct to go direct to Zurich; but Eck replied that he would wait for the answer of the confederation. Zwingle then offered to dispute at Saint Gall or Schaffhausen; but the council, acting on an article of the federal compact, which provided “that every accused person should be tried in the place of his abode,” ordered Zwingle to withdraw his offer.
At last the diet fixed that the conference should take place at Baden on the 16th of May 1526. This meeting promised to be important; for it was the result and the seal of the alliance which had just been concluded between the clergy and the oligarchs of the confederation. “See,” said Zwingle to Vadian, “what Faber and the oligarchs now venture to attempt.” f2234 Accordingly, the decision of the diet produced a great sensation in Switzerland. It was not doubted that a conference held under such auspices would be favorable to the Reformation. Are not the five cantons the most devoted to the pope supreme in Baden, said the Zurichers? Have they not already declared Zwingle’s doctrine heretical, and pursued it with fire and sword? Was not Zwingle burnt in effigy at Lucerne, with every mark of ignominy? At Friburg, were not his writings committed to the flames? Do they not everywhere call for his death? Have not the cantons that exercise sovereign rights in Baden declared, that in whatever part of their territory Zwingle made his appearance, he should be apprehended? Did not Uberlinger, one of their chiefs, say that the only thing in the world that he desired was to hand Zwingle, though he should be called a hangman all the rest of his days? f2236 And has not Doctor Eck himself, for years past, been crying out that the heretics must be attacked with fire and sword? What then will be the end of this conference? what other result can it have, but the death of the reformer?
Such were the fears that agitated the commission appointed at Zurich to examine into the affair. Zwingle, an eye-witness of their agitation, rose and said: “You know what happened at Baden to the valiant men of Stammheim, and how the blood of the Wirths dyed the scaffold......and it is to the very place of their execution that they challenge us!......Let Zurich, Berne, Saint Gall, or even Basle, Constance, and Schaffhausen, be selected for the conference; let it be agreed to discuss essential points only, employing nothing else than the Word of God; let no judge be set above it; and then I am ready to appear.” f2237 Meanwhile, fanaticism was already bestirring itself and striking down its victims. A consistory, headed by that same Faber who had challenged Zwingle, on the 10th of May 1526, about a week before the discussion at Baden, condemned to the flames, as a heretic, an evangelical minister named John Hugel, pastor of Lindau, who walked to the place of execution singing the Te Deum. At the same time, another minister, Peter Spengler, was drowned at Friburg by order of the Bishop of Constance.
Sinister rumors reached Zwingle from all quarters. His brother-in-law, Leonard Tremp, wrote to him from Berne: “I entreat you, as you regard you life, not to repair to Baden. I know that they will not respect your safe-conduct.” f2239 It was affirmed that a plan had been formed to seize and gag him, throw him into a boat, and carry him of to some secret place. With these threats and persecutions before them, the council of Zurich decreed that Zwingle should not go to Baden. f2241 The discussion being fixed for the 19th of May, the disputants and the representatives of the cantons and bishops began to arrive gradually. On the side of he Roman-catholics appeared in the foremost place the warlike and vain-glorious Doctor Eck; on the side of the Protestants, the retiring and gentle Oecolampadius. The latter was well aware of the perils attending this discussion. “He had long hesitated, like a timid stag worried by furious dogs,” says an old historian; at length he decided on going to Baden, previously making this solemn declaration, “I acknowledge no other standard of judgment than the Word of God.” At first, he had earnestly desired that Zwingle should share his danger; but he soon became convinced that, if the intrepid doctor had appeared in that fanatical city, the anger of the Romanists, kindling at his sight, would have caused the death of both of them.
They began by determining the regulations of the conference. Doctor Eck proposed that the deputies of the Forest Cantons should be empowered to pronounce the final judgment; which was, in truth, anticipating the condemnation of the reformed doctrines. Thomas Plater, who had come from Zurich to attend the colloquy, was despatched by Oecolampadius to ask Zwingle’s advice. Arriving during the night, he was with difficulty admitted into the reformer’s house. “Unlucky disturber,” said Zwingle to him, as he rubbed his eyes, “for six weeks I have not gone to bed, owing to this discussion. .....What are your tidings?” Plater stated Eck’s demands. “And who can make those peasants understand such things?” replied Zwingle; “they would be much more at home in milking their cows.” f2244 On the 21st of May the conference opened. Eck and Faber, accompanied by prelates, magistrates, and doctors, robed in garments of damask and silk, and adorned with rings, chains, and crosses, repaired to the church. Eck haughtily ascended a pulpit splendidly decorated, while the humble Oecolampadius, meanly clothed, was forced to take his seat in front of his opponent on a rudely carved stool. “All the time the conference lasted,” said the chronicler Bullinger, “Eck and his friends were lodged at the Baden parsonage, faring sumptuously, living gaily and scandalously, and drinking much wine, with which the abbot of Wettingen provided them. Eck took the baths at Baden (it was said) but......in wine. The evangelicals, on the contrary, made a sorry appearance, and the people laughed at them as at a troop of mendicants. Their way of living was in strong contrast to that of the papal champions. The landlord of the Pike, the inn at which Oecolampadius lodged, being curious to know what the latter did in his room, reported that every time he peeped in, he found him reading or praying. It must be confessed (said he) that he is a very pious heretic.”
The disputation lasted eighteen days, and during the whole time the clergy walked daily in solemn procession, chanting litanies in order to ensure victory. Eck alone spoke in defense of the Romish doctrines. He was still the champion of the Leipsic disputation, with the same German accent, broad shoulders, and strong lungs, an excellent town-crier, and in outward appearance having more resemblance to a butcher than a theologian.
According to his usual custom he disputed with great violence, seeking to gall his adversaries by sarcasm, and from time to time slipping out an oath. But the president never called him to order. Eck stamps with his feet, and thumps with his hands, He blusters, he swears, and he scolds; Whatever the pope and the cardinals teach, Is the faith, he declares, that he holds. f2248 Oecolampadius, on the contrary, with his calm features and noble and patriarchal air, spoke with so much mildness, an at the same time with such courage and ability, that even his adversaries, affected and impressed, said one to another: “Oh! that the tall sallow man were on our side.” f2249 ......At times, however, he was moved when he saw the hatred and violence of his auditors: “How impatiently they listen to me!” said he; “but God will not forsake His glory, and that is all we seek.” f2250 Oecolampadius having combated Dr. Eck’s first thesis on the real presence, Haller, who had come to Baden after the opening of the conference, entered the lists against the second. But little used to such conferences, of a timid character, tied down by the orders of his government, and embarrassed by the looks of his avoyer Gaspard of Mullinen, a great enemy to the Reformation, Haller possessed not the haughty confidence of his opponent; but he had more real strength. When Haller had finished, Oecolampadius returned to the combat, and pressed Eck so closely, that the latter was compelled to fall back on the customs of the Church. “Custom,” replied Oecolampadius, “has no force in our Switzerland, unless it be according to the constitution; now, in matters of faith, the Bible is our constitution.”
The third theses on the invocation of saints; the fourth on images; the fifth on purgatory, were successively discussed. No one rose to contest the truth of the two last, which turned on original sin and baptism.
Zwingle took an active part in the whole of the discussion. The Romish party, which had appointed four secretaries, had forbidden all other persons to take notes under pain of death. But Jerome Walsch, a student from the Valais, who possessed an excellent memory, impressed on his mind all that he heard, and on returning home, hastened to commit it to writing. Thomas Plater and Zimmerman of Winterthur carried these notes to Zwingle every day, with letters from Oecolampadius, and brought back the reformer’s answers. Soldiers armed with halberds were posted at all the gates of Baden, and it was only by inventing different excuses that these two messengers evaded the inquiries of the sentinels, who could not understand why they were so frequently passing to and fro. Thus Zwingle, though absent from Baden in body, was present in spirit.
He advised and strengthened his friends, and refuted his adversaries. “Zwingle,” said Oswald Myconius, “has labored more by his meditations, his sleepless nights, and the advice which he transmitted to Baden, than he would have done by discussing in person in the midst of his enemies.” f2253 During the whole conference, the Roman-catholics were in commotion, sending letters in every direction and loudly boasting of their victory. “Oecolampadius,” exclaimed they, “vanquished by Dr. Eck and laid prostrate in the lists, has sung his recantation; the dominion of the pope will be everywhere restored.” These statements were circulated through the cantons, and the people, prompt to believe everything they hear, gave credit to all the vaunts of the Romish partisans.
When the dispute was finished, the monk Murner of Lucerne, nicknamed “the tom-cat,” stepped forward, and read forty charges against Zwingle. “I thought,” said he, “that the coward would come and reply to them; but he has not appeared. Well, then, by every law, both human and divine, I declare forty times that the tyrant of Zurich and all his partisans are traitors, liars, perjurers, adulterers, infidels, robbers, sacrilegers, gallowsbirds, and such that every honest man must blush at having any intercourse whatever with them.” Such was the abuse which at this time was honored with the name of “christian controversy,” by doctors whom the Romish church should herself disavow.
Great agitation prevailed in Baden; the general impression was, that the Roman champions had talked the loudest, but argued the weakest. f2256 Only Oecolampadius and ten of his friends voted against Eck’s theses; while eighty persons, including the presidents of the debate and all the monks of Wittingen, adopted them. Haller had quitted Baden before the end of the conference.
The majority of the diet then decreed that, as Zwingle, the chief of this pestilent doctrine, had refused to appear, and as the ministers who had come to Baden had resisted all conviction, they were all together cast out from the bosom of the catholic church. f2257 CHAPTER -Consequences at Basle, Berne, Saint Gall, and other Places — Diet at Zurich — The small Cantons — Threats against Berne — Foreign Support.
But this famous conference, owing to the zeal of the oligarchs and clergy, was destined to be fatal to both. Those who had combated for the Gospel were, on their return home, to fill their countrymen with enthusiasm for the cause they had defended, and two of the most important cantons in the Helvetic alliance, Berne and Basle, were thenceforth to begin their separation from the papacy.
The first blows were to fall on Oecolampadius, a stranger in Switzerland; and he did not return to Basle without apprehension But his anxiety was soon dissipated. The mildness of his language had struck all impartial witnesses, much more than the clamors of Dr. Eck, and all pious men received him with acclamation. The adversaries made, in truth, every exertion to drive him from the pulpit, but in vain; he taught and preached with greater energy than before, and the people had never shown such thirst for the Word. f2258 Similar results followed at Berne. The conference at Baden, intended to crush the Reformation, gave it a new impulse in this canton, the most powerful of all the Swiss league. Haller had no sooner arrived in the capital, than the Smaller Council had summoned him before them, and ordered him to celebrate the mass. Haller demanded permission to reply before the Great Council, and the people, thinking it their duty to defend their pastor, hastened to the spot. Haller in alarm declared that he would rather leave the city than be the occasion of any disturbance. Upon this, tranquility being restored: “If I am required to perform this ceremony,” said the reformer, “I must resign my office; the honor of God and the truth of his Holy Word are dearer to me than any care about what I shall eat or wherewithal I shall be clothed.” Haller uttered these words with emotion; the members of the council were affected; even some of his opponents burst into tears. Once more it was found that moderation was stronger than power. To satisfy Rome in some degree, Haller was deprived of his canonry, but nominated preacher. His most violent enemies, Lewis and Anthony Diesbach, and Anthony d’Erlach, incensed at this resolution, immediately withdrew from the council and the city, and renounced their citizenship. “Berne stumbled,” said Haller, “but has risen up again with greater strength than ever.” This firmness in the Bernese made a deep impression in Switzerland. f2260 But the results of the conference at Baden were not limited to Basle and Berne. While these events were taking place in these powerful cities, a movement, more or less similar, was going on in several other states of the confederation. The preachers of St. Gall, on their return from Baden, proclaimed the Gospel; the images were removed from the parochial church of St. Lawrence after a conference, and the inhabitants sold their costly garments, their jewels, rings, and gold chains, to found almshouses.
The Reformation despoiled, but it was to clothe the poor; and the spoils were those of the reformed themselves. f2262 At Mulhausen the Gospel was preached with fresh courage; Thurgovia and the Rheinthal daily approximated more and more to Zurich. Immediately after the disputation, Zurzach removed the images from its churches, and almost the whole district of Baden received the Gospel.
Nothing was better calculated to show which party had really triumphed; and hence Zwingle, as he looked around him, gave glory to God. “We have been attacked in many ways,” said he, “but the Lord is not only above their threats, but also the wars themselves. In the city and canton of Zurich there is an admirable agreement in favor of the Gospel. We shall overcome all things by prayers offered up with faith.” And shortly after, addressing Haller, Zwingle said: “Everything here below has its course. The rude north wind is followed by the gentle breeze. After the scorching heat of summer, autumn pours forth its treasures. And now, after severe contests, the Creator of all things, whom we serve, has opened a way for us into the camp of our adversaries. At last we may welcome among us the christian doctrine, that dove so long repulsed, and which ceased not to watch for the hour of her return. Be thou the Noah to receive and save her.”
This same year, Zurich had made an important acquisition. Conrad Pellican, superior of the Franciscans at Basle, professor of divinity at the age of twenty-four, had been invited, through Zwingle’s exertions, to be Hebrew professor at Zurich. “I have long since renounced the pope,” said he on arriving, “and desired to live to Jesus Christ.” Pellican, by his critical talents, became one of the most useful laborers in the work of the Reformation.
Zurich, still excluded from the diet by the Romish cantons, wishing to take advantage of the more favorable disposition manifested by some of the confederates, convened, in the beginning of 1527, a diet to be held in Zurich itself. The deputies of Berne, Basle, Schaffhausen, Appenzell, and St. Gall attended it. “We desire,” said the deputies of Zurich, “that the Word of God, which leads us solely to Christ crucified, should be the only thing preached, taught, and exalted. We abandon all human doctrines, whatever may have been the custom of our forefathers; being assured that had they possessed this light of the Divine Word which we enjoy, they would have embraced it with more reverence than we their feeble descendants have done.” The deputies present promised to take the representations of Zurich into consideration.
Thus the breach in the walls of Rome was widened daily. The discussion at Baden had been intended to repair it; and from that time, on the contrary, the wavering cantons seemed willing to walk with Zurich.
Already the inhabitants of the plain inclined towards the Reformation; already it was hemming in the mountains; already it was invading them, and the primitive cantons, which were as the cradle, and are still the citadel, of Switzerland, shut up in their higher Alps, seemed alone to adhere firmly to the doctrine of their sires. These mountaineers, continually exposed to violent storms, to avalanches, to overflowing torrents and rivers, are compelled all their lives to struggle against these formidable enemies, and to sacrifice everything to preserve the meadow in which their herds graze, and the cottage where they shelter themselves from the storms, and which the first inundation sweeps away. Accordingly the conservative principle is strongly developed in them, and transmitted from age to age, from generation to generation. To preserve what they have received from their fathers constitutes the whole wisdom of these mountains. These rude Helvetians were then struggling against the Reformation, which aimed at changing their faith and their worship, as they struggle to this day against the torrents that fall in thunder from their snowy peaks, or against the new political ideas that have been established at their very doors in the surrounding cantons. The will be the last to lay down their arms before that twofold power which already raises is banners on all the hills around, and threatens daily and more nearly these conservative districts.
Accordingly these cantons, at the period which I am recording, still more irritated against Berne than against Zurich, and trembling lest this powerful state should desert them, assembled their deputies in Berne itself a week after the conference at Zurich. They called on the council to depose the new teachers, to prosecute their doctrines, and to maintain the ancient and true christian faith, as confirmed by past ages and confessed by the martyrs. “Convoke all the bailiwicks of the canton,” added they; “if you refuse, we will take it upon ourselves.” The Bernese replied with irritation: “We have power enough ourselves to speak to those under our jurisdiction.”
This reply only increased the anger of the Forest Cantons, and these cantons, which had been the cradle of the political freedom of Switzerland, alarmed at the progress of religious liberty, began to seek, even from without, for allies to destroy it. To combat the enemies of foreign service, that foreign service might reasonably be resorted to; and if the oligarchy of Switzerland could not suffice alone, was it not natural to have recourse to the princes, their allies? In fact, Austria, who had found it impossible to maintain her own authority in the confederation, was ready to interfere to strengthen the power of Rome. Berne learnt with dismay that Ferdinand, brother of Charles V, was making preparations against Zurich and all those who adhered to the Reformation. f2266 Circumstances were becoming more critical. A succession of events, more or less unfortunate, the excesses of the fanatics, the disputes with Luther on the Eucharist, and others besides, appear to have seriously compromised the Reformation in Switzerland. The discussion at Baden had disappointed the hopes of the papal party, and the sword they had brandished against their adversaries had broken in their hands; but this had only increased their vexation and anger, and they were preparing for a fresh effort. Already the imperial power itself was beginning to move; and the Austrian bands which had been routed in the defiles of Morgarten and on the heights of Sempach, were ready to enter Switzerland with colors flying, to re-establish the tottering power of Rome. The moment was critical; it was no longer possible to halt between two opinions, and be neither “muddy nor clear.” Berne and other cantons, which had long hesitated, were now to come to a decision. They must either promptly return to the papacy, or take their stand with fresh courage under the banners of Christ.
A Frenchman from the mountains of Dauphiny, William Farel by name, at this time gave a powerful impulse to Switzerland, decided the Reformation of Roman Helvetia, still immersed in deep slumber, and thus turned the balance throughout the whole confederation in favor of the new doctrines.
Farel arrived on the field of battle like those fresh troops which, when the issue of the contest hangs in the balance, rush into the thickest of the fight and decide the victory. He prepared the way in Switzerland for another Frenchman, whose austere faith and commanding genius were to put a finishing hand to the Reformation, and make the work complete. By means of these illustrious men, France took her part in that vast commotion which agitated christian society. It is now time that we should turn our eyes towards that country.